The Best Whole Foods Sports Alternatives

The Best Whole Foods Sports Alternatives

This article is slightly controversial. Even to me.

The use of sports nutrition products are the norm among athletes of all kinds and of all ages. Each and every day, I see someone running with a sports gel, a cyclist eating a sports bar, or a hockey player downing a sports drink before practice. It’s common place and it’s “cool.” On the flip side, I also hear dreadful stories of precious wasted time during a triathlon in the port-o-potty or terrible gas pains sidelining a lacrosse player during a game. I wish I could record conversations before and after a road race. The conversation revolves around each participants’ personal GI issues. And I’m the guiltiest of them all. There is no greater fear in an athlete than spending months of focus and goal-oriented training all taken away because their body had a bad reaction to a sports nutrition product.

Racing and training nutrition is an ongoing experiment. And once you think you have it down, your body changes. As athletes, we take pride in eating whole foods, eating clean and monitoring everything that goes into our bodies. But then, when race day comes around, what do we do? Quite the opposite. We get to the start line and just when we're working at the highest intensity possible, we pour as much refined sugar and carbohydrate as possible into our bodies. We down gels and beans and bars and sports drinks, all with the intention of maximizing our potential. WAIT! STOP!

If your goal is to fuel your training sessions with whole foods and real nutrients, then isn’t it important to keep those things the same during a period of high intensity? I say yes! I think the goal should finally be to find whole, natural and clean foods that are just as convenient and natural as the refined prepackaged products being marketed to us, that also happen to be sending us straight to the port-o-potty! We may not be able to carry a mixed green salad with roasted asparagus and balsamic grilled salmon on our 10 mile bike ride, but we can certainly do better than corn syrup and malodextrin!

I’ve come up with a few options. There are many variations of these homemade sports nutrition snacks; I suggest experimenting during training and finding the ones that appeal to you and work for you during your endurance journey!

Nut Butter

Start with your favorite roasted or raw nut. I typically choose the roasted and salted variety for added sodium to replenish what’s lost in sweat. Sometimes, I even choose 2-3 different nuts and make a multi-nut butter.

Soak the nuts in water for about 1 hour. Place in your NutriBullet with water and Blast. Not only is the nut butter delicious, but the monounsaturated fat and protein combination is ideal for long distance training. If you make the nut butter slightly thinner than usual, you can put it in a gel flask. You can also easily put it in a small baggie and take small doses at a time when you need it.

**Variation: If you add dates to the nut butter mixture, you add a valuable source of complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals!

Dried Fruit and Nuts

I like to carry dried fruit and nuts with me on long bike rides. They are easy to carry, easy to chew and contain all necessary nutrients for cycling.

Frozen Fruit

Frozen mangoes, frozen grapes, frozen blueberries, frozen bananas, etc. These options are best in spring and fall. Once the heat and humidity come, frozen fruits turn mushy too quickly. I recommend letting them melt in your mouth. They will cool your mouth and, thus, your internal temperature and will deliver simple sugar to your blood stream slowly. If it's warm out, store them in a small cooler along your running or cycling route and stop for a little pick-me-up!

Homemade Gels

This is my favorite for a long run! The elimination of fiber is key. Fiber slows digestion. This is ideal for daily intake, but because you need to access the energy quickly during a run, it's beneficial to reduce fiber before a run. Once again, use either a gel flask or small baggie for easy dispensing.


¼ cup organic honey (or agave nectar), ½ tsp blackstrap molasses, pinch of sea salt, 1 tbsp protein powder, 1 tbsp instant coffee (optional for caffeine)

Homemade Energy Bars

This recipe could not be easier! My favorite part: You don’t need to bake them! Plus, it's really convenient to take these energy balls out on a bike ride or run! Simply put them in a baggie or small container and go! Just as easy as packing a prepared/refined sports bar.


1 cup toasted rolled oats, cooled

½ cup miniature dark chocolate chips

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup creamy peanut butter

⅓ cup honey

½ cup coconut flakes

¼ cup ground flaxseed

¼ cup toasted wheat germ


Place oats and chocolate chips into a large mixing bowl.

Blast together peanut butter, honey, coconut, flaxseed and wheat germ. Pour into the mixing bowl and spoon together.

Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes and then roll into balls.

Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, Triathlon Coach

Comment by jimii2
May 03, 2013
Looks like a very good nutrition combo and I also see where I can regulate the sweetness by the amount of honey used. I’ll give it a try. Thanks Jenn!
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