I am both a vegetarian and a trail running/biking junkie, I’m not a nutritionist so take this post for what it is, my research, observations and experience with a new food/energy source. I seem to constantly be searching for healthy, long-lasting energy foods. Quinoa is probably my all time favorite and a staple of my diet, I’ll share some of my favorite recipes another time. Recently, I’ve become quite intrigued with coconut oil as an energy food. If you remember the 90s, coconut oil was outed as the mother of all evil foods permanently altering the taste of movie theater popcorn. Now, coconut oil is experiencing something of a renaissance. However, most of today’s coconut oil (and particularly the one I am talking about) is not your mother’s coconut oil. In the 90s coconut oil was typically highly processed, which seemingly turns the “good” fats into “bad” fats. Long story short, stay away from the words partially hydrogenated. Enter fresh pressed, unrefined coconut oil. Available all over the internet and for those of us who like to pay a premium for instant gratification, your local Whole Foods. At room temp, coconut oil is the consistency of butter or lard but it melts quickly and has a medium smoke point, which makes it work great for baking and ok for other cooking uses. Coconut oil is primarily a medium chain triglyceride (“MCT”), which according to our friends at Wikipedia are “generally considered a good biologically inert source of energy that the human body finds reasonably easy to metabolize.” Basically, MCTs are easy for the body to absorb and convert to energy. A 2005 study found coconut oil could ameliorate some of the problems associated with several digestive disorders including Crohn’s disease, Irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
Ok, but what am I doing with coconut oil? (Hey, keep it clean, will ya?) For the last couple of months, I have
experimented with using coconut oil as an energy source both before and during long runs. I have started taking approximately 1 teaspoon of coconut oil immediately prior to running and on runs over 10 miles taking another 1 teaspoon about midway through the run. I have found that when I take coconut oil prior to running, my energy level is strong for the duration of the run, usually 45-90 minutes. I have historically had issues with “bonking” during exercise and while I think overall diet is the most effective combatant of “bonking” my experiment with coconut oil has been remarkably positive.
For my mid-run dose, I have begun mixing a bit (probably 1/4 tsp) of Himalayan crystal salt to the mix. Not only does the salt give the mix a bit of much needed flavor, but also helps replenish lost electrolytes during long workouts. To deliver the mix, I simply use a small plastic bag and place the oil in one corner, mix in the salt and tie the bag off as close to the corner as possible. During the run I simply bite off the corner and, depending on the temperature, either squeeze the mix out or drink it if it has liquefied. Honestly, it’s not the most pleasant taste experience, but I truly have found that it provides a long lasting energy source. I am going to try adding a little raw honey to the mix for both flavor improvement and to see if I can add a little more quick energy to the mix. The feeling is nothing like most sports gels, which I find give a great temporary boost to tired muscles, but more of a slow burn of energy that can help get through the last hour of a long workout.
I was on the road for business this week and did a couple of runs and did not have access to my usual “fuels”. On my second run, which admittedly did follow a fairly hard run the day before, I bonked hard! It was a hot day, but I only ran about 4.5 miles and really struggled to get through the last one. I hadn’t experienced a bonk is quite a while and it did make me miss my coconut oil.
I think the jury is still out on this one, but I’ll continue to experiment and see what I can learn. I certainly welcome anyone’s experiences or feedback on this topic.