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Glycogen is energy stored primarily in the liver and muscles, and it's what fuels us during prolonged periods of exercise. But the body can only store so much glycogen at one time, and once these stores are gone, energy levels quickly start to drop.

When the body needs energy fast, like during a long run, simple carbohydrates are crucial. These are foods that are high in glucose that can be quickly absorbed by the body without making the body do extra work digesting them. For runs lasting over an hour, it’s important to refuel with the right foods for optimal performance.

Bananas

Bananas are a classic mid-exercise snack for a reason. The average banana contains 27 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates, making it as effective as a sports drink for replenishing energy stores. What’s more, they’re packed full of fiber and minerals like potassium and magnesium that help regulate essential functions like blood pressure.

Choose bananas that are brown, not green. The riper the banana, the faster the sugar will be absorbed.

Young cauciasian fitness woman wearing sport clothes training outdoors eating healthy banana for strength and energy AaronAmat / Getty Images

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Dried Fruit

Dried fruit is an excellent mid-run snack as it’s super portable, easy to eat, and packed full of easily absorbed energy. Studies show that raisins are as effective as sports jellybeans in maintaining glucose levels during exercise. They also won't sit heavy in the stomach, so they're unlikely to cause digestive issues.

As an added bonus, dried fruit delivers most of the health benefits associated with fresh fruit, such as vitamins and minerals, making them a nutritious choice.

Bowl with different dried fruits on table background, top view. Healthy lifestyle with copy space Mykola Sosiukin / Getty Images

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Honey

Honey is an excellent source of simple carbohydrates, making it an ideal mid-exercise snack. Natural honey also contains polyphenols that help reduce oxidative stress caused by intense exercise. Look for individual sachets for optimum portability, or double up the fast energy boost by making a honey and white bread sandwich.

While it’s not generally considered as healthy as wholemeal, white bread is an excellent source of simple carbohydrates, delivering fast energy when needed most.

A spoonful of golden syrup overflowing from it profeta / Getty Images

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Pretzels

During exercise, sodium is lost through sweating. Some people lose more sodium than others and may want to replace it by eating salty snacks. Pretzels are a popular mid-run snack and are sometimes handed out at endurance events like marathons. They’re a good source of simple carbohydrates and low in fiber, so they can be absorbed quickly and are unlikely to cause digestive issues.

Take care when eating pretzels on the go, though, as they can be a choking hazard. Make sure to chew thoroughly and follow up with lots of water.

Pretzel cookies in a grey bag on a pink background, space for text PROMT8 / Getty Images

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Energy Bars and Gummies

Ready-made sports energy foods are specially designed to deliver energy during a workout. They are generally glucose-based, providing fast-acting sugar when it's needed most without any unpleasant digestive issues.

Many commercially-available energy snacks also contain vitamins, minerals, and protein to support performance and recovery. They are easy to eat on the go and usually come in the form of bars or chewable gummies.

Healthy outdoors exercising Eva-Katalin / Getty Images

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Gel Packets

Like energy bars, gel packets are designed to deliver energy fast. Some gels also contain electrolytes and caffeine to enhance performance. The benefit of gels is that they are super easy to consume on the go and require little to no chewing. However, some people are put off by the texture and prefer something more solid.

Taking gels keeps your energy up! GlobalStock / Getty Images

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Sports Drink

Sports drinks are an incredibly popular choice for refueling during exercise. Many argue that water is the best liquid to consume when running, but others point out the benefits sports drinks can bring, namely the replacement of electrolytes and glucose.

The biggest benefit of sports drinks is that they deliver an energy boost alongside hydration, which is crucial for a healthy run. Want a homemade alternative? Try combining coconut water, pure orange juice, honey, and sea salt for a similarly effective drink.

man hydrating andreswd / Getty Images

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Jelly Sweets

While not overly healthy, jelly sweets can be a good choice for a snack during a run. They are packed full of sugar and contain virtually no fat or fiber, meaning they can be absorbed super fast. This also makes them a good choice for people prone to digestive issues during running.

The downside is they have very value in terms of vitamins and minerals, so go for more nutritional alternatives where possible.

Woman Holds Gummy Nutritional Supplements in Palm of Her Hand Grace Cary / Getty Images

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What to Avoid

Contributing factors to digestive distress when running include the rapid up and down movement of the body and the redirection of blood flow away from the digestive tract towards the muscles. What we eat can also be a factor. Common triggers are alcohol, caffeine, NSAIDs (like ibuprofen), and foods that are spicy, fatty, or high in fiber.

Try to avoid these triggers before and during exercise, and choose simple, glucose-based mid-run snacks like those laid out above to minimize digestive discomfort.

Hand pressing plunger on French press coffee maker Tony Anderson / Getty Images

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A Note on Water

It’s well known that the most important thing we can give our bodies is water. This is especially true during periods of intense or prolonged exercise. Studies show that insufficient hydration increases the demand on the body's glycogen stores, causing them to deplete more rapidly, decreasing performance.

Water is also essential for healthy digestion and to reduce the risk of choking while eating during a run.

An athletic woman who rests after training, stands by the fence and drinks water from a bottle Milan Markovic / Getty Images

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.

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