5 Great Alternatives to Energy Gels for Running

Alternatives to energy gels for running

Let's explore alternatives to energy gels for running that can still provide you with carbs, electrolytes, glucose, potassium, and other sports nutrition. 

You know that your nutrition matters when it comes to your running performance — and it makes sense that you'd rather enjoy real food for running fuel instead of sucking down Franken-food energy gels.

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Do You Need Fuel on the Run? How to Decide

Before we dive into exploring alternatives to energy gels, it's important to understand whether you actually need an energy boost during your run. The general rule of thumb: if you're working out for less than an hour, water is all that you need to rehydrate (and you don't need to refuel to keep your energy up). 

Going on a run longer than 60 minutes? You'll want to give your body a boost of carbohydrates at some point — and if you're competing, you'll want to test out what works best for you long before race day. The last thing you want is to find out that your new natural energy source causes GI upset in the middle of a half marathon (or worse — an ultramarathon). 

Energy Gel Alternatives: Pros And Cons

If you've decided that you need to get some nutrients and/or hydration into your blood stream during your runs, we've got you covered. Check out these tried-and-true refueling favorites and choose one for your next training run. 

1. Chia Seeds

Alternatives to energy gels for running: Chia Seeds
While you can chomp on chia seeds plain, most athletes prefer to mix them with water to make them a bit easier to swallow

If you're into nutrition (or you're an 80s child and remember the much-beloved Chia Pet novelty plant), it's likely that you're familiar with chia seeds. These small black seeds turn into a gel when mixed with water, and provide readily available energy to athletes on the go. While you can chomp on chia seeds plain, most athletes prefer to mix them with water to make them a bit easier to swallow. 

Pros
  • All-natural, loaded with fiber and antioxidants, sugar-free, low in calories compared to other refueling options
Cons
  • Can be tough to transport, can pose a choking hazard when eaten dr

2. Honey Stinger Waffles

Many marathoners and other endurance athletes agree that Honey Stinger Waffles are delicious before, during, or after a run. Comprised of two thin waffles stuck together by a smear of honey, these delicious bites provide a fructose and carbohydrate boost. 

Pros
  • Lightweight, easy to carry while running, no unaffected by hot conditions, gluten-free option available
Cons
  • May pose a choking hazard if eaten on the go, no caffeinated option

3. Sports Drink (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.)

Alternatives to energy gels for running: Sports drink
Sports drink refueling options can be a pain to carry

If you're watching your calories or running for weight loss, it can be tempting to reach for the zero-calorie sports drink options like Gatorade Zero. A word of caution: if you're running a far enough distance to refuel, you need the sugars

Sports drink refueling options can be a pain to carry. It can be a good idea to break up your long run into loops, allowing you to stop at home or at your car to refuel with a sports drink. 

Pros
  • Quick hydration, easy on the stomach, provides electrolytes to replace what you lose in sweat during your distance run, doesn't need to be refrigerated
Cons
  • Tough to carry on the run, often loaded with artificial dyes, can produce a heavy, jiggly feeling in the stomach if you drink too quickly

4. Coconut Water

Heralded for its top-notch ability to provide hydration, coconut water is beloved by athletes around the world. Deliciously chuggable, coconut water is a dye-free, all-natural solution that's a good fit for athletes who want to stick to whole foods only. 

Pros
  • Refreshing, light taste, provides electrolytes, all-natural, dye-free, can support heart and kidney health
Cons
  • Some people don't care for the taste, tough to carry while running, some varieties are mixed with high-sugar juices

5. Clif Shot Bloks

This gummy option can be the perfect fit for runners who don't want to chug a sports drink but also don't want to have to stop and chew a mouthful of chia seeds while on the go. Cool bonus: Clif Shot Bloks are available with or without caffeine, so you can decide whether you need to add a little pep to your step. Potassium and organic maltodextrin provide a boost of electrolytes and energy. 

Pros
  • Quick to eat, easy to chew, caffeinated option
Cons
  • Can melt when carried close to the body on a run, may create a choking hazard if eaten on the go

The Final World on Alternatives to Energy Gels for Running

If you're tired of choking down energy goo on your long runs, you're in luck — you've got plenty of options. Whether you need hydration and decide to go for coconut water or a sports drink, or you prefer something you can chew, there are many ways to refuel while you're out training for a half, a full, or even an ultramarathon. 

FAQs on Alternatives to Energy Gels for Running

Do I need to refuel during my runs?

If you're running for an hour or longer, it's a good idea to keep your energy up by refueling around the mid-point of your run. 

What's a good, easy-to-carry refueling option for my long-distance training runs?

Clif Shot Blocks and Honey Stinger Waffles are both great portable options to help you stay strong during long runs.

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