Real Food Nutrition for Endurance Athletes

Hi everyone! I hope things are going well for you and you’re enjoying this fall weather (if you’re lucky enough to have fall weather). If you haven’t noticed, I’m still working on getting the blog cleaned up and the images replaced. I’m sorry it’s taking me so long, but it’s something I am only able to do in my free-time and  as you can imagine, there’s not a lot of that.

That being said, I wanted to write a post that is near and dear to my heart- eating real food while training for endurance events. This is probably the biggest question we get from athletes after they are introduced to a Paleo or whole food diet- “How am I going to fuel myself during my long workouts?”.

I actually wondered the same thing, but after testing a variety of real foods during my training, I now know what foods I can eat during my training and racing that will power me through those long endurance workouts. After switching to a real food nutrition approach in my training, I have PR’d my 5k time, my half marathon time, Olympic distance triathlon time and have felt better during my training and during recovery. Obviously there are other factors that play into this, but I know that real food has helped me in many ways. It may take a few weeks for your body to adjust and you may have to try different combinations to get your ideal mix, but once you find it, I bet you’ll feel better in both your training, racing and overall recovery.

Real Food for Endurance

So first off, let’s talk about the things that people currently fuel with during their endurance training (and what I used to eat before my focus on whole foods). Common items include:

– Sports Gels

– Energy Bars

– Sports Drinks and/or Soda/Pop

– Chews

Real Food Nutrition for Endurance Athletes-

So why do athletes eat this stuff? For starters, marketers have done a fantastic job at selling the heck out of these products and making people think that they need this stuff. Second, they’ve been told that they need to fuel their bodies every 15 minutes to keep energy up and to sustain longer training sessions. Unfortunately, with that train of thought, people often end-up over consuming food which can result in weight-gain, sluggishness and also sloshy bellies (seriously the worse). Not to mention, if they’re eating the above items, they’re ingesting all sorts of fake ingredients, dyes and more. The goal instead is, to eat real foods that can sustain your training goals AND, having a well-thought out plan that allows you to fuel your body for the workout. You may need to eat something every 15 minutes, but there are ways to accomplish that using real food.

Instead of training with the traditional items listed above, test some real food items. Also, take into account how long you’ll be working out. If your training is less than 60 minutes, you are probably ok with just water with some electrolytes (if it’s warm). If you’re training longer than that, tailor your intake of food and drink accordingly to length of workout, temperature, etc.

Here are some of my suggestions for nutrition if you’re heading out for a long run or bike ride or, if you have a combined triathlon workout lasting longer than 60 minutes in time:

Note: you don’t need to eat all of these. These are just a few options- you can choose one or two depending on the length of your workout:


Try eating a small meal about 1-2 hours before your training session. If you train in the morning or at the end of the day, eat something small beforehand. Try and pair some protein and carbs and minimize the fat- here are some good options:

– Beef jerky with fruit and nuts (Primal Pacs are awesome or make your own recipe like this one)

– A couple of hard-boiled eggs with a handful of dried fruit or nuts

– Tuna with some plantain chips or a sweet potato

– White rice cakes with raw honey and almond butter (*I recommend doing a Whole30 to see how you tolerate rice)

– Applesauce or an apple with some chicken

– Larabar or homemade fruit and nut bars like this one with beef jerky

RxBar or AMRAP bar if you’re truly on-the-go

UCAN drink (*I recommend doing a Whole30 to see how you tolerate Whey and Corn)



– A few medjool dates filled with almond butter, cashew butter or sunflower seed butter (if you’re not strict Paleo then you could do peanut butter)- store them in a baggie

– Mini Larabars or homemade fruit and nut bars

– Squeezable baby food like sweet potato, apple, beets, carrot or make your own. I mix together pureed sweet potato with honey, cinnamon and almond milk and carry it in a travel-size shampoo/conditioner container or refillable baby food container

– Natural or homemade fruit chews and gummies. I found some at the grocery that only contain fruit juice, but you could make your own with this recipe or this one.

– Dried figs, raisins or dates

– Ignite Naturals Reload Energy Gels (This is the only gel I have found to be made with a fruit base. The Blackberry Blueberry is a fig paste base)

UCAN drink



–  Water with Elete Electrolyte add-in

– Water with Elete electrolyte add-in mixed with some fruit juice- my favorite is tart cherry juice concentrate

– Coconut water taken with salt tablets or sea salt added (I use Elete Electrolyte salt tablets)

UCAN drink



I am not a huge fan of eating snacks after a workout unless you really don’t have time. Try and eat a meal afterwards and make it either your breakfast, lunch or dinner. Focus on whole foods as you would for any other meal. I love sweet potatoes with protein and veggies or something like my sweet potato hash.

I hope you try some of these options as we get into marathon season and training season for triathlons. I’d love to know what your real food training options are- do you fuel with any of these? What are some of your favorite real food nutrition options? As always, stay fit and eat delicious!

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Comments: 2

  1. Amy Ayers November 4, 2014 at 2:49 am

    This is a great article. I’m working on getting back into running after not doing any for 3 months. The longest distance I’ve done is a 15k race. I’m hoping to get back to the speed I was at, and eventually a little faster. Hopefully I’ll be able to put some of these tips into practice to help me out. And I’m super excited to see that there is a gel available that doesn’t have all of the junk added in that ones currently on the market have.

    • Ashley Fleming January 9, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      Thanks for reading Amy- best of luck!