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Q | What are some healthy alternatives to exercise chews and gels?

A | While commercial exercise chews and goos might be convenient for a quick shot of energy during endurance workouts, many varieties are filled with artificial ingredients and preservatives. If you prefer whole-foods options, you can grab dried fruit or make you own energy snacks to get a similar boost of electrolytes and carbs, says Lauren Antonucci, MS, RD, a dietitian in New York City who works with athletes and the general population.

Antonucci’s clients often choose homemade fruit leather or energy bars featuring ingredients such as dried fruit, oats, fruit juice, honey, and molasses.

Even a handful of raisins can be helpful. A 2012 University of California–Davis study found that both raisins and chews improved running performance compared with drinking only water, and that the participants’ performance was similar between the raisins and chews.

While not everyone needs the extra fuel — especially during shorter, less intense exercise sessions — quick-digesting supplemental snacks can be useful for athletes participating in endurance sports, says Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, a sports dietitian and nine-time Ironman finisher based in Greenville, S.C.

If you’re opting for a commercial product, she suggests reading ingredient lists and selecting natural products when possible.

Prefer to make your own? Try this fruit leather recipe.

Homemade Fruit Leather

  • 2 cups ripe or slightly overripe fruit, such as berries, apples, peaches, or grapes
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup honey (optional)
  1. Wash fruit, remove peels and seeds as appropriate, and cut into chunks. Place in a blender with lemon juice and honey. Purée until smooth.
  2. Line a 13-x-15-inch baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper; do not use waxed paper or aluminum foil. Spread the purée evenly, about 1/8-inch thick, onto the baking sheet.
  3. Dry the fruit leather at 140 degrees F (or your oven’s closest setting) for up to 18 hours. Test for dryness by touching the center of the leather.
  4. While it’s still warm, peel the leather from the silicone mat and roll it up. Allow to cool, slice as desired, and rewrap in waxed paper or baking parchment.
  5. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.

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