Consuming real foods might just be the missing ingredient in your long-course racing. Here’s what you need to know.

Fuel your long-course training and racing with real foods to reap the benefits.

Whether you’re sick of manufactured sports nutrition, have never found the right product for you, or you’d just like to be more aware of what goes into your body, consuming real foods might just be the missing ingredient in your long-course racing. Here’s what you need to know.

Why should I switch?

For one, you would be eating food provided by nature. “There are certain things in these foods we can’t quantify—there are phytochemicals and phytonutrients that can’t be engineered,” says Kim Schwabenbauer, a certified sports dietitian, Level 1 USAT coach and owner of Fuel Your Passion. These nutrients plus the vitamins and minerals found in natural foods support all your body’s functions. Secondly, you’ll avoid that “manufactured” taste after too many hours in the saddle. Some athletes also believe less-processed foods cause less gastric distress.

RELATED: Whole Foods For Recovery?

Why shouldn’t I switch?

Inconvenience. It’s not as simple as grabbing a bar or gel, and “even though it was great on your trainer at home,” Schwabenbauer says, “it may be really hard to open on the road.” You also need a solid understanding of what food works well as sports nutrition—is there an appropriate level of carbs and electrolytes? Too much fiber or fat? “It’s harder to calculate if you’re not looking at a nutrition label,” she says.

RELATED: Do The Benefits Of Organic Foods Outweigh The Cost?

When do I switch?

Three months before your 70.3 or Ironman is prime time to practice. “On at least two or three of your long rides you want to nail it,” she says. Stay hydrated, and ensure you have no stomach issues during your transition run. Remember that most of your real-food fueling will have to take place on the bike, where you have a rolling smorgasbord at your disposal.

RELATED: Training And Racing With Whole Foods

What do I eat?

In workouts two hours or longer, aim for this balance:
• 60–90 grams of carbohydrate per hour
• 800–1,000 milligrams of sodium per hour (and up to 2,000 milligrams if you’re a salty sweater or racing in hot conditions)
• No more than 2–3 grams of fiber per hour
• 3 grams or less of fat per hour
• Real-food examples: Bananas, raisins, other dried fruit such as pineapple and dates, almonds, goji berries, crackers (Ritz, Nutter- Butters or Teddy Grahams), pretzels, baby food purée, or make-at-home snacks like rice cakes or boiled pota- toes (search YouTube for Allen Lim’s boiled potato recipe).

“But it doesn’t have to be all one or all the other,” Schwabenbauer says—you can mix engineered sports nutrition with real foods. For example, coconut water is great for hydration but still might need to be supplemented with salt tabs for extra sodium in long races.

RELATED – Feed Zone Portables: Banana Waffles

Take It To Go

Ideas to help you put real-food fueling into practice.

– This recipe for “Salty Balls” (insert snicker here) from Osmo Nutrition founder Stacy Sims, Ph.D., was put to the test by age grouper Hailey Manning, who fueled with them (plus Osmo Active Hydration and Coke) on her way to a 9:58 finish at the 2013 Ironman Hawaii.

Combine 1⁄2 cup nut butter (natural peanut or almond), 1/3 cup brown rice syrup, 1⁄2 cup whey protein isolate (such as Osmo Active Recoveryor Muscle Milk), 1⁄2 cup dry oatmeal (or 2/3 cup Perky’s Rice Crisps), and 1⁄4 cup shredded coconut (or 1⁄4 cup raisins). If you need more holding power, add more protein powder, then add a sprinkle of salt on top. Makes 10 balls, and each ball contains about 140 calories.

Feed Zone Portables ($24.95, is packed with 75 recipes for rice cakes, two-bite pies, waffles and other on-the-ride snacks from Chef Biju Thomas and sports physiologist Allen Lim, Ph.D.

– In lieu of a mushy banana in your jersey pocket, try Barnana, a potassium-rich snack made only of partially dehydrated organic bananas. They come in small, chewy bites (think more fruit snack than banana chip). Available in original ($3.99) and dark chocolate covered ($4.99),

RELATED: Go Bananas With This Healthy Snack