The triathlon training blog of Phil Barnes

Raisins: A Better Endurance Food Choice

I can't stand Energy Gels. Yuck. I understand their value to long-distance training/events, but I just can't bring myself to even attempt to like them.

I just read this from Runnersweb.com and a light bulb went on over my head.

Real food choices can be good ones as an alternative to the gels, pastes and other concoctions that are flooding the ultra-endurance market these days. In their place they may be even better choices, and, perish the thought, substantially cheaper.

Those who have a Trader Joe’s store handy may have seen the bags of 13 snack-size bags of Chilean raisins, which are what set me down this path, but you can buy raisins just about anywhere. I mention the Trader Joe’s product because the 35-gram bags are perfect for packing on a run or ride. They pack flat, and if the bag bursts, it doesn’t leave you with an impossibly sticky mess, unlike gels.

And a gel is a good proxy. These little bags of raisins pack 110 calories and 28 grams of carbohydrates, just like a lot of gel packs. But what else in raisins makes them so special?

Raisins are, very roughly, half-and-half glucose and fructose with a bit of sucrose thrown in. That’s a great combination of a fast-acting and a slower-acting sugar. They also have a lot of potassium, by my calculation about 260 mg per small bag. But there’s more to the story. Raisins are high on the antioxidant ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score. Only prunes beat them, and raisins are way ahead of kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts. As endurance and ultra-endurance athletes, we subject ourselves to considerable oxidative stress, so this is worth thinking about.

Anthony C. “Woofie” Humpage is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and USA Triathlon Certified Coach who specializes in the training of masters athletes for endurance and ultra-endurance sports. His focus blends performance enhancement with athletic longevity.