Water, a sports drink, GU, and perhaps banana or orange slices; these are the typical fair at aid stations in runs from 5ks to marathons (ultra marathons have a reputation for offering more of a buffet). However, sports nutrition knowledge, new products, and runners’ preferences have come a long way—wouldn’t it be nice to update the average aid station table with some more diverse snacks? I am, of course, just one runner, but with 16 years of the sport under my belt and countless aid stations visited, here are a few food and drink choices I’d be downright giddy to see offered in my next marathon:
Electrolyte enhancement and replacement drinks are a dime a dozen these days, but this one stole my heart for two reasons: 1. No sugar. My gut really appreciates this when it’s slightly dehydrated and working overtime for hours on end in a race. 2. Convenience. Nuun comes in tablet form, so you can simply pack a little round tablet (slightly larger than the size of a quarter) anywhere on your self, and add it to your water source whenever you’re ready for it, as it dissolves within seconds. Also, I’m not going to lie, the flavors don’t really do it for me, but when a product works, I don’t care—I’m not out there running a marathon to feel comfortable in the first place.
Yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “Bandwagon!” I thought it too for a long time, and then I finally gave in and tried them. There’s a reason some well known pros have been raving about these strangle little seeds. Once activated by soaking in liquid (I prefer water) for a few minutes, they take on the consistency of tapioca; so as long as you can stomach the texture, it could be offered in something as simple as a Dixie cup or fancy (and convenient!) as a squeeze pouch, like Mama Chia.
The bananas are usually already there, so why not have small cups with blobs of peanut butter next to them for dipping? It may be a thick, sticky offering, but most runners know the quick benefits a tablespoon or two of peanut butter can offer with his quick-absorbing carbohydrates and healthy fats. But please, limit it to the natural kind, like Adam’s, with no added sugar.
The original portable source of quick absorbing natural sugars for that little energy boost needed at mile 15. This is so simple and affordable, I really don’t understand why I don’t see these on the tables.
The ultra running community is raving about this drink lately. It’s a powder you mix with water, and it is so sure of itself that their website offers to pay your next race entry fee if you don’t like it. That kind of confidence, folks, is what I like to see in my racing nutrition! Worst case scenario, I gain a learning experience and a free race!
Nature’s best tasting sugar source! Clearly, Dixie cups of honey would be a sticky mess while on the run, but the liquid gold can easily be found in cleaner and more convenient sources, whether the old school honey sticks you likely enjoyed as a kid or newer products, like from Honey Stinger.
I’m not too picky; no nut would be turned down. My usual fair on longer runs usually consists of: almonds, cashews, and walnuts.
Nature’s version of those various little chewy energy sources. Speaking of, my favorite non-nature created chew is…
Clif Blok Shots
If Clif started offering these in little sample packets of 2 blocks (the traditional packs have 6), they would be perfect to hand out as samples during races.
Steamed Potato Chunks
In the world of ultra running, this is an old staple. Many ultras offer these salted nuggets of energy, but I have yet to see them offered in a marathon.
Another staple on ultra running aid station tables, but rarely (I’ve never seen it) found in shorter distances. Why the heck not? The benefits of salty soup broths—especially chicken soup, or miso soup for my fellow vegetarian or vegan friends—have been admired, studied, and herald for centuries.
Another bandwagon, yes—but one that works. Personally, I have to chug this because I think it tastes like sweat, but many people think it tastes delicious. You could even kill two birds with one gulp by adding the chia seeds directly into your coconut water.
I know that beggars can’t be choosers, and I most certainly find myself begging (internally, but still…) frequently in marathons. At the end of the day, I’m grateful just to have an aid station at all, and—if I’m being honest—I’d eat deep fried bugs if it’s all that was offered because, hey, I’m tired and hungry.