A RUNNER’S GUIDE TO SUSTAINABLE NUTRITION

From energy gels to protein bars, fitness and food writer Flora Beverley shares some of her favourite options for eco-friendly formulas and mindful packaging.

At its core, running is the ultimate sustainable sport. Requiring not much more than your legs and a pair of trainers, it’s hard to wonder what could be so unsustainable about running. However, between wearing out shoes, constant new kit, travel to races and plastic food packaging, the climate impact can quickly build up. 

As we lead up to marathon season, one of the most common issues eco-conscious competitors will face is the number of plastic wrappers on all things to do with running nutrition. From energy gels to drinks and protein bars, the single-use packaging adds up, but it doesn’t have to be this way, as evidenced by the number of  brands who are switching to more eco-friendly formulas and sustainable packaging. As a runner myself, I’m constantly on the hunt for products that work well and are kinder on the planet. Here are some of my favourites.

Energy gels

Finding eco-friendly fuel for long runs has been the number one question I get regarding nutrition. It’s a tough one – any extra weight when you’re running is detrimental, so single-use, disposable sachets have long been the packaging of choice when it comes to running gels. The problem is, not only is this packaging reliant on harmful fossil fuels, it’s also damaging (and unsightly) when it accidentally falls onto the trails.

A natural alternative to modern sports nutrition, Lucho Dillitos is my go-to trail ‘gel’, although in reality it is a solid block more than a gel. Based on the traditional Colombian dessert Bocadillo, this fuel is made from guava fruit (85%) and sugar (15%). Because of its ingredients, it’s super high in vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium – useful for when out on a run. Most importantly, it’s wrapped in a dried leaf which is completely compostable. Once the block is eaten, the leaf can be discarded on the trail like any other leaf, where it will biodegrade. The blocks also avoid the problem of sticky wrappers and half-eaten gels in your running pack – a huge bugbear of mine! 

If you prefer liquid gels, one alternative could be to create your own, either with a gel mix or using home ingredients. Active Root is a small brand providing eco-friendly electrolyte and gel mixes. Its powdered gel can be mixed with water to create a natural energy gel, completely erasing the need for single-use gel sachets. They sell soft-flasks for mixing, holding the equivalent of 3 – 4 gels, and some flavours even have caffeine in, too.

Protein

Most protein brands package their products in plastic or mixed-material packaging, making it harder to recycle and (again) heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Additionally, whey protein relies on carbon-intensive animal agriculture. Opting for vegan proteins can reduce the overall impact of the product itself, and choosing plastic-free compostable or recyclable packaging lessens the environmental cost further. 

Introducing Vivo Life, a specialist in supplements that don’t cost the earth. Not only are its proteins all 100% plant-based (using a mix of protein sources including hemp protein, pea protein and soy protein) to minimise the impact of animal agriculture, it is also a certified carbon neutral company, including delivery. As much as possible, Vivo uses organic ingredients, and its delivery boxes are cut from recycled card. On top of all this, Vivo has ditched plastic scoops and is switching to home-compostable packaging within the year – a positive change which will pave the way for others in the supplements industry. 

Hydration/electrolytes

For longer and warmer runs, hydration in the form of electrolytes is vital, both out on the run and when you return home afterwards. Electrolytes are not only important to allow your muscles to contract and relax (hence why athletes get cramps if they don’t have enough), they’re also key to recovery after each run. If you don’t take rehydration seriously, your next run will suffer. 

Active Root is a small UK-based brand providing eco-friendly electrolyte mixes. Each pack contains 1.4kg of powder (cane sugar, ginger powder and sea salt), enough to make 40 500ml electrolyte drinks. The refill sachets are 100% compostable too, making this an entirely plastic and waste free option. And, because of the ginger, it’s a great option for people who get upset stomachs on the move! 

Vivo Life also provides hydration mixes (Sustain), using coconut water mixed with EAAs (essential amino acids, providing further recovery benefits). The orange & baobab flavour is my absolute fave post-workout for muscle repair and rehydration.

On the go snacks

Created to help you hit your long term health and wellness goals, nutrition brand Human Food offers up natural snacks packaged in home-compostable packaging made from plant-based cellulose. The wrapper can be disposed of in your food-waste bin or compost, and if it flies out of your running pack on the move it won’t wreak havoc with the local ecosystem (although it’s better to find a compost bin rather than throwing in a hedge as conditions are better for decomposition in the former). 

I really like making my own snacks at home, too. Homemade ginger cake or flapjacks are my favourite, and make a nice change from pre-packaged foods during an ultra-marathon. Storage can be difficult but beeswax wraps or reusable zip-locked sandwich bags tend to do the trick. Snacks that can be bought in bulk, like trail mix also make for decent food, but remember that high-fat foods such as nuts are processed slower than sugar, so best for long and/or slow expeditions. 

It can be hard to find what works for you on a long run, and harder still to find eco-friendly options. Thankfully, so many brands are coming out of the woodwork and stepping up to the mark when it comes to sustainability, and hopefully soon running can be the simple, eco-friendly sport it was meant to be.

Follow @foodfitnessflora for more tips.