Bananas and Potatoes: What to bring during long runs?

Bananas are arguably the runners’ favorite go-to when it comes to quick nutrition while running.  They’re cheap, convenient, and they taste good.  However, studies show that potatoes are also packed with nutrients that can enhance and support the body’s overall function and athletic performance.

We lose more than just calories whenever we exercise because sweat is more than just water.  This is why for activities with high intensity or done during extended periods of time, it’s important not just to hydrate but also replenish your nutrients.  This is one of the reasons sports drinks and energy gels exist, but of course you can get these nutrients from natural sources as well.  Specifically, it’s the electrolytes that need to be maintained during the activity as they are critical for nerve and muscle function.  Cramps are commonly due to low electrolytes.

As someone who has done countless races from 3K to 102K, I’m no stranger to cramps (see all of these events that I had them).  Regardless of the distance or pace, you will cramp up if your electrolytes are low.  I used to carry with me energy gels which I religiously take every 30 minutes (regardless of pace) followed by sips of sports drink.  But these are relatively expensive, especially when you may need more than one depending on the race distance.  I manage my portions by taking only half pack at a time and only use them for 10K races or longer.  It was a relief when races started serving bananas in hydration stations!

Having a banana in a hydration station is more convenient than bringing your own.  As you might have figured, bananas won’t survive long in your pockets and you may just end up getting slime in your pants.  You may put them in your backpack for events like trail running or biking, but unless you place them in a sturdy container, your chances of getting a firm banana while carrying it is slim.  That’s why energy gels remain popular despite their price. 

Even in hydration stations, if you left bananas too long they’d easily get mushy.
Taken during my 50K run at the 2016 edition of TNF 100.

But what if you can cook, prep, and bring your own natural and much cheaper alternative?  It turns out that with potatoes you absolutely can!

If you look at the nutrition facts of energy gels or sports drinks, you’d notice two main nutrients that they focus on: sodium and potassium.  Sodium is found in salt so anything we take with salt would have them.  Potassium is the one that needs to be constantly replenished as it helps transport nutrients into your cells and muscles as an electrolyte.

Bananas do have potassium that’s why they’re an effective in-race nutrition, but one of the best natural dietary sources of potassium are potatoes.  A medium size potato with skin on (5.3 oz) contains 620 mg of potassium compared to a medium size banana (4.5 oz) that only has 450 mg.  You can simply make mashed potatoes with some salt and you have your own natural version of an energy gel!  This may not be the most convenient form of bringing and consuming during an event, so I’d suggest just bring fries (use an air fryer for less oil) or boiled baby potatoes in your stash!  What’s more, potatoes can definitely hold their form much better than bananas!

Measured per weight, potatoes have much more potassium than bananas.

I actually realized this just recently.  Had I known earlier, I would’ve definitely brought it in my supplies for events like TNF100 or Bataan Death March, probably in the form of boiled baby potatoes since they won’t spoil easily and the skin contains a lot of nutrients.  And now that I know, I have more justification to eat some fries before or after a run, or any demanding physical activity!  Just be mindful of your portions though, especially if deep fried, as well as your choice of dips.

So, what would you bring with you for long runs?  It boils down to personal preference as both bananas and potatoes are healthy sources of potassium.  But from now on, it’s the super spud for me!

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