Snacks to Fuel a Workout

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Thirty percent of New Year's resolutions made by Americans this year relate to weight, diet and health, according to a recent survey by the Barna Group, a Ventura, California-based research firm focused on the intersection between faith and culture. Unfortunately, a rather grim statistic glares those resolute Americans in the eye: nearly half of those who made commitments last year reported that they had experienced "no change" in their behaviors.

Inevitably, every January, I watch this saga play out around me in my office gym. There is a noticeable bump in traffic early in the month, but it gradually dwindles. As a runner, I try to maintain a level of fitness throughout the year, but I am certainly not impervious to the challenges of staying motivated. Things definitely shake my resolve. I always struggle when Daylight Savings Time ends in the fall. With it getting dark earlier, I opt to work out over my lunch hour instead of after work. But even that presents its problems. It's often hard to tear away from work, and when I do, I usually run on a hungry stomach. The predicament has gotten me more and more interested in finding the perfect workout snack—something that gives me a needed boost but doesn't slosh around in my stomach.

A couple of years ago, while training for a marathon, I experimented with stashing an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie in the pocket of a fuel belt I wore around my waist during long runs. While it, and other snacks, I've since read, such as Fig Newtons, Sweet Tarts, graham crackers, dried fruit, orange slices and, if it's not too hot out, fun-size candy bars, can tide you over, there is a pretty wide selection of energy snacks tailored specifically to an athlete's needs. (Note: Re-fueling is usually recommended after running or biking 45 minutes.)

At first, I'll admit, they seem about as appealing, and foreign, as astronaut food (hence, my cookie), but they are worth a try. There seem to be two categories of energy snacks, and the difference takes me back to my pediatrician and the question she’d ask: liquid or chewable?

The first is energy gel. Gu Energy Gel, PowerBar Energy Gel and Clif Shot are three popular brands, and each comes in at least a one-ounce, 100-calorie packet, shaped much like a sample of lotion. They are easy to carry, and, with sugars, electrolytes and, occasionally, caffeine, they pack a punch. The products’ makers recommend consuming one to three packets (with a few gulps of water each packet) every hour of exercise to help maintain energy levels.

The second type comes in the form of fruit chews and, believe it or not, jelly beans. Clif Bar Shot Bloks, Gu Chomps, Power Bar Blasts and Honey Stinger Energy Chews contain about the same amount of calories per serving (from three to 10 pieces) as half of a gel packet. They re-supply the body with carbohydrates, usually antioxidants and sometimes amino acids and caffeine. It is recommended that they be eaten in different intervals, depending on the brand, starting after 45 minutes of exercise. Jelly Belly has even come out with sport beans to nosh on while running.

People seem to discover something they like, in a flavor they like, and then stick with it. Personally, I think the pudding-like gels are a bit messy and sit funny in my stomach, and the jelly beans, 20 miles into a marathon, can be exhausting to chew. But for me, the Cran-Raz Shot Bloks are just right.

What energy snacks do you prefer?

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