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5 Creative Things We’ve Seen Endurance Athletes Use For Nutrition

We all know that doing a triathlon or running or cycling race takes a lot out of you. The longer the race, the more you need to strike that balance between keeping yourself nourished and keeping your gut happy. It can be a challenge staying fueled and hydrated during long events.

As you can imagine, we have seen a lot of different things at races when people are trying to their hydration, electrolyte, or sodium levels in a good spot. Sometimes it is what you would expect – energy drinks, gel packs – but sometimes it is exactly what you would NOT think.

Here are 5 of the craziest things we see people eat or drink at a race.

5 Most Creative Things We’ve Seen Endurance Athletes Eat

Pickle Juice

pickle juice endurance

Probably the most common one on the list, pickle juice has gained popularity among endurance athletes due to its ability to prevent muscle cramps. It is high in sodium and other electrolytes, which are lost through sweat during long endurance races. Pickle juice is believed to work by triggering the oropharyngeal reflex, which helps to reduce muscle cramps. It can be carried in a belt, jersey pocket, or stashed in bag drop on a long endurance race.

Does it taste good on an 80-degree day? Sorry, but we cannot vouch for it. But pickle juice gives you sodium and potassium, but because virtually every pickle recipe is different, the exact amounts will vary.

Mustard Packets

mustard packet enduranceMustard packets are one of the craziest ways we have seen for endurance athletes to prevent muscle cramps, but I first heard about it from an ultra gravel racer who wanted to carry some small packets of something to give him sodium. Those little packets of mustard are compact and easy to carry, and they keep for a long time, making them a popular choice among endurance athletes. Mustard works by stimulating the oropharyngeal reflex, which helps to reduce muscle cramps. It is recommended to use the cheaper mustard as it is more vinegar-y and the acid in the mouth may cause immediate/temporary cramp relief.

You can use plain old mustard packets or specialty mustard like from an Asian restaurant.

Black Vinegar

vinegar packet enduranceAnother option from the condiment tray at your local restaurant, Black vinegar is a popular condiment in Asian cuisine and has been used for centuries for its health benefits. Many non-athletes like it because it can help with digestion and improve circulation. But for athletes, Black vinegar is also high in acetic acid, which can help to reduce muscle cramps. It can be carried in packets and taken during long endurance races.

Like mustard, it travels well and keeps for a long time.

Between the mustard and vinegar, you might have one that sits better with you. Try them both and go with whichever flavor you are attracted to.

Gas Station Sandwiches

gas station enduranceI first heard this tip from an Ironman triathlete, who swore by eating gas station sandwiches before a race, or even taking a bite in the middle of the long bike leg.

Gas station sandwiches may not be the most glamorous food choice, but they can be a lifesaver before or during long endurance races. They are high in sodium, carbohydrates and protein, which are essential for maintaining energy levels during long races. Plus, that shot of fat is a nice counterbalance to all the pure carbs and electrolytes your gel packs are giving you. They are also easy to find and can be purchased at any gas station along a long ride route.

Stick of Butter

butter enduranceYes, a stick of butter. I first heard this one from someone who did sled dog races, and have since heard of it from other ultra-endurance athletes.

While it may sound strange, but some ultra-endurance athletes swear by taking a bite from a stick of butter during long races. Butter is high in fat, which provides a slow-burning source of energy. It also contains essential vitamins and minerals.

Taking a bite or two of a stick of butter is a dense way to get some fat in your gut without eating too much, and that can help your body process all the sugars, gels, and sport drinks you are consuming along the course on a multi-hour bike ride.

The Real Thing – Nutrition for Your Races

So while there are some strange things you can eat during a ride or race, there are also a few things actually intended for your endurance work. Much has been written about these, so I won’t go into detail, but it is worth hitting on them.

Solid Foods vs. Liquid Nutrition

One of the biggest debates in endurance race nutrition is whether to consume solid foods or liquid nutrition. Everyone has a preference when it comes to their favorite nutrition. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Solid foods can provide more sustained energy, but they can also be harder to digest and may cause stomach upset. Remember, your body is trying hard to run or bike, and doesn’t have the same energy to devote to the gut.

Liquid nutrition or energy drink mixes, on the other hand, is easier to digest and can provide quick energy, but are not as satisfying as solid foods.

Experiment with both solid and liquid nutrition during your training runs to see what works best for you. Some athletes prefer a combination of both, while others stick to one or the other.

Energy Gels and Chews

Energy gels and chews are a go-to for any endurance athletes doing more than a short race because they are easy to consume and provide quick energy. Most gels and chews contain energy gel for endurancecarbohydrates and electrolytes, which can provide a shot of energy and prevent cramping.

It is important to read the labels of energy gels and chews to ensure they contain the right balance of carbohydrates and electrolytes for your needs. Some gels and chews also contain caffeine, which can provide an extra boost of energy, but it is important to use caffeine in moderation and to test it out during training runs before race day.


Caffeine is a popular choice for many endurance athletes because it can provide an extra boost of energy and can help delay fatigue. You can take it in the form of a gel shot, syrup shot, or even a small chilled espresso shot if you are able to keep it cool.

Caffeine can have a diuretic effect, which means it can increase urine output and lead to dehydration if not consumed with enough fluids. Consume caffeine with plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Nothing New on Race Day!

Just remember the old adage of many, many endurance athletes: Nothing new on race day.

Whatever nutrition you want to try, use it first on your training days, find what works, and gradually settle on a race day plan.

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