Pro runners dish about the strangest foods they've fueled with on the trails
I don’t even like stinky cheese, but there I was gnawing on a baguette filled with the pungent variety of aged dairy while running up a French mountain pass in a sleet storm. Just two days earlier, I'd loaded my fastpack with conventional snacks (you know things like energy gels, nut butter, and beef jerky) but my rations diminished quickly during monster days of mileage and vert in the mountains. Now, I'd resorted to eating whatever I could get my hands on—including mid-run spaghetti with meatballs—and even things that I personally consider too gross to eat when I’m not running. Soggy tuna sandwich, anyone?
Every serious trail runner has been in this exact situation, perhaps even a right of passage: the moment that circumstances like preventing an emergency bonk, dealing with muscle cramps, or giving into a strange craving to keep morale up results in fueling with the most bizarre foods. And I do mean strange. Some of the U.S.’s top trail pros share their most unique suffer snack rituals.
(Warning: The following confessions are not for the faint of stomach!)
Clare Gallagher: Tortilla Chips, Almond Milk, and Sriracha
Leadville 100 champion Clare Gallagher has become the poster child for unique dietary rituals, starting with her staple breakfast of crushed up tortilla chips and almond milk, drizzled with Sriracha. Clare explains: “I have a problem with Sriracha. I crave it more in the summer months and I put Sriracha on everything. Plus, I always have tortilla chips on hand.”
[Why It Works] Unlike sugary cereals, tortilla chips offer an added dose of salt to help prevent cramping and maintain hydration.
Luke Nelson: Squeezable Cheese
While running the King’s Trail in Sweden, Luke Nelson, a self-described happy mountain wanderer who holds the FKT for all of the 12,000-foot peaks in Idaho, tried Reindeer Squeeze Cheese for the first time. It was love at first taste.
For U.S. runners looking to capture some of Luke’s processed cheese magic, the most comparable and packable option is to fill some plastic baggies with Cheese Whiz or run with packets of the cheese sauce from a box of Velveeta Mac and Cheese.
[Why It Works] During monster days on the trail, conveniently packaged sources of protein and fats will keep you moving forward and stave off the ups and downs of more sugary snacks that can lead to bonking.
Ty Draney: Squid Jerky
It seems like strange animal products follow Nelson on the trail. Ty Draney was pacing Nelson at the Wasatch 100 when he was introduced to squid jerky. “It seemed like a good idea because it was salty and delicious," he says. "Later I laid by the side of the trail for 90 minutes praying a cougar would eat me.”
Considering Draney once finished three laps of the impossibly tough Barkley Marathon with a torn Achilles, the squid jerky really must be that brutal.
[Why It Works] It didn’t. Opt for goo next time.
Keely Henninger: Hot Chocolate
Way Too Cool 50 Miler runner-up Keely Henninger likes her hydration hot. “At the 2014 JFK 50 Mile, it was below freezing the entire run. By mile 25, I was bonking hard. Since all of my water bottles were frozen shut, I couldn't get any water out of them, so I poured hot chocolate over the top, thawed them out, and drank the water. Then I had a brain blast moment and refilled them with hot cocoa. By far the best decision of my life," she says. "I ran the rest of that race with hot chocolate- quickly turned cold- sloshing in my bottles. I owe my finish to that hot, tasty, sugary liquid. My post-race recovery? Hot chocolate. I'm pretty sure I was oozing it from my pores by the end of the awards ceremony.”
[Why It Works] On frigid runs, a warm liquid can keep your core temperature (and morale) up. Plus, in a pinch, the carbohydrates in hot chocolate will maintain energy levels similar to a sports drink.
Jamil Coury: Potato Burritos
Jamil Coury once came across a “Mashed Potato Martini Bar” at the 2010 Grand Mesa 100 Miler, complete with real martini glasses and toppings for the taters—all of which worked wonders to keep him from bonking. The potatoes became a fueling mainstay. and Jamil now credits mashed potato burritos for saving him during a blow up caused by what he calls, “some sort of nutritional disaster” going into the 42-mile aid station at the
The potatoes became a fueling mainstay. Jamil now credits mashed potato burritos for saving him during a blow up caused by what he calls, “some sort of nutritional disaster” going into the 42-mile aid station at the Hardrock 100. The potato burritos resurrected him from 95th place to 14th!
[Why It Works] This is a carbohydrate bomb! Bonus: Got a sensitive stomach? Both potatoes and tortillas are very bland and easy to digest.
Jennifer Love: Taco Bell
When she’s not crushing 100-mile races, Jennifer Love has turned extreme eating and running into an event of its own. “This spring, I ran 32 miles with my dear friends Jordan and Alex, fueled by 11 different Taco Bell stops. At each stop, you were required to order a different menu item. You're only allowed to carry a credit card. All liquids must be consumed on location, and you must have enjoyed a Baja Blast at the stop of your choice. It was by far the best day of my running life! But whatever you do, don't consume the nacho cheese," she says. "Be prepared to seek out other bathroom options.”
[Why It Works] Fun, friends, and guilty-pleasure foods are all great motivators to get you out the door to log some mileage.
Suffer Snack Bonus: Gas Station Fuel
They may not be the first things that come to mind, but these snacks are found at nearly every convenience store, will help fuel you during your next run, and may even enhance your recovery.
[Pickle Juice] I personally love pickles and have been told about the power of drinking the juice for years. When I went through a phase of calf cramps every night, I gave it a try and my cramps disappeared for good. I now drink a few swigs from the jar every single day.
[Rice Crispy Treats] These are a go-to for David Laney (a podium finisher at UTMB), who selects them because they taste great, are cheap, and are readily available.
[Frosting] Though not coated in Sriracha, Gallagher also fueled on store-bought frosting during her Leadville victory because it was cheaper than gel and dense with tasty calories. (She has since picked up a coconut-based frosting sponsor, Frostd).