Runners Plate

Runner’s Plate: A Case for Raisins

The movement from processed foods to whole (sometimes referred to as ‘real’) food has gained significant momentum in the last few years. Although sports food companies might like you to believe otherwise, real food can be just as good  of an option during training and racing, which I’ve written about before.  Last month, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published a study that put this idea to the test. Researchers from the University of California at Davis looked at the effect of raisins vs. sports jellybeans on runners’ performance. While previous research has shown raisins (and other dried fruit) can be just as beneficial to performance as engineered sports food like sports jellybeans or GU, the research has often been done in cyclists, who tend not to experience as much GI upset as runners. Since raisins have some fiber, this could be of concern for runners.

The 11, healthy, trained runners ran for 80 minutes on a treadmill at 75% of their maximum effort (determined by V02 max test), and either ate 100 calories of raisins, 100 calories of jelly beans, or water only (no food) every 20 minutes. After the 80-minute run, they participated in a 5k timed trial. By designing the study as a cross-over trial, meaning each runner participated in the trial three times – raisins, sports jellybeans, and water—the authors were able to eliminate any differences in GI tolerance from one runner to another.

Participants ran, on average, 1 minute faster during the timed trial when they ate either raisins or jellybeans, when compared to drinking water only. As suspected, eating raisins was just as good as sports jellybeans when it came to performance. Interestingly, the runners experienced little to no GI upset after eating the raisins.

These results are promising for people who might prefer to go the real food route. Raisins also provide a cheaper option for fueling. Raisins cost about 30 cents for 100 calories, instead of $1.50 for a pack of sports jellybeans.  Raisins, of course, require chewing, which poses a challenge for some runners.

Everyone’s GI tract is different so if you’re thinking about trying raisins (or other dried fruit like dates), try it during a training run; never test it for the first time on race day!

What are your thoughts on raisins as a fuel choice? Have you tried them before?

(Sarah holds an MS in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University Friedman School in Boston. She is currently completing a nationally recognized dietetic internship at The Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston this fall so she can become a registered dietitian. Sarah is a certified spin instructor and an avid runner and regularly participates in road races from 5k to a 1/2 marathons. She is also training for her first triathlon! Follow her on Twitter @SpinnerSarah and at her personal blog Food and Fitness Friend.)

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