Go Triathlete

Real Food for Training and Workout Recovery

Say you're about to head out for a ride or run, reach into the cupboard for nutrition, and find that you're out of sports drink and/or bars and gels. While this scenario seems problematic, it's really not an issue with a moderately stocked pantry. In fact, this situation might be a bit of a wake-up call in regards to your training and race nutrition.

While sports drinks and bars and gels serve a purpose, they aren't always so easy on the palate (or stomach). Though, that's just a matter of personal taste. Rather, simple, wholesome, and easily digestible substitutes to sports nutrition are often at your fingertips. So, the next time you're in need of food for a workout, consider the following items:


Rather than having a bar or gel, you can top off your glycogen stores just as well shortly before a workout with either dried fruit, some fresh fruits, a few nuts or nut butter, and toast. Dried fruits are a great alternative to nutrition products, in that they are packed full of carbohydrates, are easily digestible, and contain only natural sugars (if all-natural, or better yet, are homemade).

Here are some good examples of dried fruits to try:

  • Raisins
  • Cranberries
  • Figs
  • Apricots
  • Dates (pitted)
  • Prunes 

Some types of fresh fruit can be quite fibrous, making it less than ideal to eat shortly before a workout. However, fruit like kiwi, berries, and bananas are great options. Again, since these foods are easily digested and are higher on the glycemic index, it's wise to have some nuts or nut butter with them to provide satiety. Toast with jam or a nut butter is another great alternative. Personally, I am a huge fan of a banana and almond butter before most workouts.


While on the bike, the dried fruits mentioned above would again be appropriate, as they're easy to eat and store. If the workout is not at an incredibly high intensity, then it would be perfectly okay to add nuts or coconut flakes to that bag for some fat and protein content. If you're working out at a high intensity, your stomach may struggle to digest something with a higher fat content though.

To mimic a gel, minus the caffeine, slightly watered-down honey or maple syrup stored in a flask is another good option. That will provide a quick burst of energy being that it is just sugar, but be sure to have other items to eat in addition to that to keep your energy levels topped off.

Homemade sports drinks are very easily accomplished using whatever fruit juice you have on hand. Preferably, it's best to use 100% juice. Just mix equal parts water to juice (or slightly more water depending on the juice) and add a pinch or two of salt if it is warm outside and voilà, homemade sports drink. This gives you the greatest variety of flavor, as the number of juices available in stores seems unlimited. Though, it's best to stay away from very acidic juices.

One of my favorite and easily prepared foods for long rides is homemade waffles or oatmeal pancakes - white-chocolate macadamia nut waffles are especially nice. When I make them, I do not include butter or any dairy, making for a very easily digested, easy to eat, and tasty meal. Below is the recipe for my dairy-free, Banana Waffles:

  • 1 ¼ cup flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ripe banana, smashed

Preheat waffle iron.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Stir in milk, vanilla extract, and egg until batter is smooth. Add smashed banana (and whatever else you would prefer; raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, etc).

Lightly coat the waffle iron with cooking spray and ladle batter into molds and cook until golden brown.


After your training is done, your pantry and fridge are fair game. Recovery shakes are convenient, but the taste of  real food seems to always trumps the laboratory concocted mixes. For example, chocolate milk continually is shown to be one of the best recovery drinks you can have. For an actual meal though, something composed of a lean protein and whole grains is always the way to go. Best of all, since natural wholesome foods tend to have fewer calories than a processed alternative, it could be that much more beneficial to you if you're trying to drop weight.

Nutrition is something that will always be dependent on the individual, so some things might work better than others. Regardless, it's hard to go wrong with simple, unprocessed foods. I've found that I feel much better when eating a cleaner diet while working out and I hope the same will hold true for you.

As for racing with such foods, it's wouldn't be difficult as long as you can store everything you want to eat on your bike and/or in your jersey pockets. Special needs is another option, if available. Even if your traveling to an event, such foods are staples of supermarkets, whereas, you may not be able to locate your favorite sports nutrition brand everywhere you go.