When I first started going on 3 hour+ runs I felt myself reaching for the same thing over and over. A lot of ultra runners like consistency on their runs when it comes to nutrition, but I got sick of GUs and Clif Bars from the get-go, particularly because I ate a lot of Clif Bars while working as a field biologist. I didn't really know all the options out there until I started working at The Balanced Athlete and saw a few unfamiliar items on the nutrition shelf.
I packed a good bundle of nutrition options for our Cascades Road Trip since I knew I would be racking the miles. When it came down to it - anything with calories works on the trail for me as long as it's not dairy, which I'm yet to find in a sports bar.
I'll start with the most surprising food that worked for me: Beef Jerky.
My meat intake is relatively minimal and when I'm eating meat it is almost NEVER red meat. About a month ago Justin was in Spokane for a wedding as a groomsmen. Like any wedding day, the bridal party was on-the-go the whole day and one of the other groomsmen had packed Krave Jerky in his bag for the day. After Justin took a bite I never heard the end of this miracle melt-in-your-mouth jerky. His most notable statement was "I want them to sponsor me as a trail runner."
After some research online we found out they actually do sponsor athletes! Athletes like Meb Keflezighi and Vernon Davis... I guess Justin won't be running for Krave afterall. When I tried Krave Jerky it was in the right circumstance. We reached Blanca Lake after climbing 3500ft and I was ready to refuel before going back down. I chewed on a Picky Bar but it wasn't enough so I took a piece of jerky from the packet Justin had carried. It was surprisingly satisfying and sat better than any other gel or bar I had taken previously. The biggest down side to Krave (in my opinion) is that it comes from grain-fed cows. I'm skeptical of what else goes into their products, but in the end it got me to the car without bonking. It was also a huge plus to eat something savory, rather than the typical over-sweetened gel.
After my jerky kick I found a better brand that is grass-fed with less ingredients overall and has dried fruit mixed in with the meat. Primal Jerky is my new pick on the trail, which you can find online or at most natural foods grocery stores.
As I mentioned before, I got sick of Clif Bars a long time ago along with all the other boring processed crap at generic grocery stores. I was excited to find the above three options.
Picky Bars: A small start-up by Lauren Fleshman who was in need of an alternative food source in a bar. These were in stock at the Balanced Athlete and one of my co-workers said this was his favorite on the shelf. I grabbed a few for our road trip and was hooked. Justin was also hooked so we argued over the third bar. They have caffeinated and non-caffeinated flavors, all with easily digestible ingredients and crunchy puffed rice that makes for a nice texture.
GoMacro: A family-owned company that wanted a healthy and sustainable bar. These are on the bigger side, so I generally eat one over a period of time while running. The best part about these bars is their flavors are based on the nut butter used. I am a total addict when it comes to nut butters so I was stoked to find these in everything from cashew to sunflower seed butter.
Health Warrior CHIA BAR: I can see my friends who know me well laughing at this one. I can't remember the last time I went through a day without eating Chia seeds in some form - and no, it wasn't because I read Born to Run. I promise these are good. They are the perfect size at 110 calories and barely smaller than a GU.
After my luck with beef jerky I felt it was time to make the leap and try a meat-based protein bar. Big mistake. So many people rave about these bars and I have no idea what they are referring to. I tried OmniBar first and it was vomit-worthy. I tried to feed the remainder of the bar to the dog we were watching and I got the cold-shoulder. Combining peanut butter with beef is never a good outcome. The Epic Bar is better, but I still feel like I'm eating dog food. I will say OmniBars have no preservatives in them whatsoever. The ingredient that keeps them stable is salt. Maybe that's why the bar Justin opened was covered in mold?
Finally: PRO BAR. They have regular bars but I took the chews with me on my runs while we were in the Cascades. These taste better than other chews because they are sweetened with real fruit juice. My excitement about these chews may have been exaggerated by the fact that I finally wasn't eating a GU or Clif Bar. Some of the Clif and Power Bar products have carageenan in them which I won't touch, so I was relieved to find a nutrition option with fewer ingredients. It's hard to avoid preservatives all together but I would highly recommend steering clear of this one. You can read more about carageenan here and here.
There are many more options out there than the ones I touched on, these just happen to be my picks (sans omnibar/epicbar). I'll get sick of all these options in a few months and will be back with more refueling options I stumble upon along the way.
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.