I have run 126 marathons and ultramarathons so far in my running career. I would estimate that I’ve grazed or passed by close to 1,000 aid station tables during those races. I’ve tried many foods that have worked and others that didn’t and made the race even more difficult.
Race directors can make or break a runner’s chances of reaching their full potential based on the time, money, and quality of food they put at their aid stations.
Here is a quick look at my all-time favorite aid station foods!
Top 15 Ultramarathon Aid Station Foods
- Grilled Cheese Sandwiches & Tomato Soup – For me it doesn’t get any better than this combo. This is like the surf ‘n turf of ultra food for me. So yummy and so many calories quickly. A good grilled cheese can soak up so much tomato soup, and they both go down so easily. A big calorie recharge that warms the soul during colder races at night.
- Fruit – It’s something that is better the hotter and longer the race. Watermelon or oranges are usually the most available fruits at aid stations. My favorite is chilled watermelon during a hot race. It’s extremely refreshing and tasty. Pineapple, cantaloupe, and oranges are a great, naturally sweet snack as well. Frozen oranges on a hot day can taste like sherbet.
- Boiled Salted Potatoes – Quick bite sized hit of sodium/salt and some carbs. Most ultras have these in bite sized chunks. Boiled potatoes are a solid and easy go-to that is easy on the stomach.
- Bean Burritos – This is my go-to food 50% of the time as it is. Tasty with lots of good calories and protein that can easily be eaten with one hand without getting too messy.
- Cheese Quesadillas – Pretty common at most aid stations, especially in the southwest and west coast. These are easy to make, handle and consume. Some are way better than others. The mexican grilled cheese (but not as golden)!
- Chicken Broth – Ton of sodium and salt. It’s extremely useful at night during a cold ultra to warm the soul and lift spirits. Without noodles it’s easy to drink. Cheap Ramen noodles can be nasty, especially when partially cooked. Good RD’s go for the real chicken noodle soup, not that college Ramen ish.
- Potato Chips – Salt, salt, salt! Grab a handful and take off! Dr. Karl Studtmann introduced me to the Lay’s Stax potato chips. The beauty of these is that you can grab 15-20 at once stacked together and eat them rather easily with minor damage to the roof of your mouth.
- Rice Krispie Treats – Electric Youth! Sweet & tasty with a bit of nostalgia of getting off the bus in 5th grade for a snack upon returning home after a long day of trading baseball cards. RKT are sweet but on the bland side of most sweets. They are easy and quick to consume.
- Gummy Bears/Worms – The Bernstein clan is great for a quick sugar kick. Throw several gummies in your mouth and suck on them for several miles for a sugar drain that is good for a super boost during a low spot.
- Double Stuf Oreos – As far as a quick fix, Double Stufs might be at the top of the list. Lots of sugar, chemicals, and often a perfect elixir to get that pick me up from a low or dark spot. If you ever do a race that has regular Oreos instead of Double Stufs then you should write a bad review about the race and never return!!! If you do a race and they have reduced fat Oreos then you can be sure that the RD is Jobie Williams!
- Enchiladas – The Silverton 1000 Challenge (multi-day) had this mexican specialty last week. It was beyond good. I was instantly transported to Mexico City and had to stop long enough for another plate full before returning to el rastro. Kudos to RD Mark Hellenthal for this culinary treat.
- Brownie Bites – Cheap Costco aid station food, but it’s small, tasty and a lot of calories in just a bite (or two). Beware of the Brownie Bites in Colorado and Washington.
- Lasagna – Perhaps my favorite food of all-time when not racing, so when I see it during a race (usually a 100 miler or multi-day event) my eyes light up and stomach purrs. It’s very tasty, has a lot of calories, some protein, and a lot of carbohydrates.
- Cheeseburgers – Burgers are good almost every day of the year as it is. During a race they taste even better. They are a natural handheld (unless someone is going Atkins on it), and they easy to walk/run with while eating it.
- Chocolate – Chocolate is good for sugar boost, like most candy, and it’s good for a bit of caffeine jolt as well. My chocolate of choice is bite size Nestle Crunch bars.