Today, I would like to introduce two of my favorite energy gel alternatives for running ultramarathons.
At this point of the run, you need something genuinely tasty, easy to process, and still packed with energy to lift your mood and keep your legs churning.
Ultrarunners! Meet dried mango and watermelon.
Dried mangoes satisfy several criteria for ultramarathon fueling: delicious, energy- and nutrient-rich, and easy to carry.
Dried mango is the dehydrated version of the fresh fruit. Although some of the mango’s nutrients are lost during drying, dried mango is still a great source of calories and carbohydrates.
While many dried fruits no longer taste like the original fruit (raisins, dried cranberry, for example), dried mango retains the deliciousness in a less messy form.
100 g of dried mango provides the following:
Dried mango packs a serious punch when it comes to calories and carbohydrates. For your reference: a standard GU energy gel is 32 g and provides 100 calories and 22 g of carbohydrates.
33 g (a third of 100 g) of dried mangoes provide 105 calories and 27 g of carbohydrates and a variety of micro-nutrients – a very decent carbohydrate-to-weight ratio.
As pointed out in the above section, dried mango delivers energy without weighing you down. Many brands package their dried mangoes in a ziplock bag. Run, open the bag, eat a few pieces, and then zip it back up for later. No fuss, no mess. You can also repackage dried mangoes in smaller baggies to avoid bringing the whole retail package.
Here’s a friendly tip: Dried mangoes are on the chewy side of the texture spectrum, and depending on the brand, they might come in big pieces.
It’s a solid food containing dietary fiber, so it reacts slower than energy gels. But you can make consumption easier. Pre-cut into smaller portions, chew thoroughly and enjoy it. Yummy food equals good mood equals good performance.
If you have crew support, I wholeheartedly recommend including watermelon in your snack repertoire. It’s a super delicious option for hydration and getting in some carbohydrates and micro-nutrients.
Watermelon comes from the Cucurbitaceae family. Believed to be first domesticated in Northeast Africa, it’s now produced in many parts of the world, ranging from tropical to temperate regions.
In addition to its high water content, watermelon is a good source of vitamins (A and C), electrolytes (potassium and magnesium), and antioxidants (carotenoids and lycopene).
100 g of watermelon contains the following:
Although compared with many fruits, watermelon is not as caloric- and carbohydrate-dense, it is a good source of water and electrolytes. The fact that watermelon isn’t overly sweet makes it a nice change of pace after you’ve already consumed packs and packs of energy gels.
Watermelons are often available at race aid stations and cut into easily edible pieces. If you are fortunate enough to have a crew, have the juicy melon chopped up and ready when you enter for pit stops.
However, I wouldn’t recommend bringing watermelon with you without crew support. Even if you have the pieces in a ziplock baggie, they will be heavy, messy to consume, and a little gross if crushed inside your hydration pack.
Here’s another tip: Dip the watermelons in salt to increase sodium intake. The sweet and savory combination is quite tasty as well.
Compared with energy gels, real foods require more time for your body to process. However, with a balanced nutrition profile and nutrients properly and naturally proportioned, they are often less stressful on the body, even when you’re pushing yourself both mentally and physically.
Solid foods might be too slow-reacting for any adventure under three hours to make a difference in performance. For ultramarathons that last 10+ hours and beyond and are often jokingly called eating contests in disguise, you’ll want solid foods and foods that genuinely taste good instead of just borderline palatable, like most gels, chews, and drinks.
Dried mango and watermelon are delicious options for replenishing carbohydrates and hydration, respectively. Incorporate them with the convenience of energy gels to create a fueling plan that is both efficient and taste buds friendly.