Exercise enthusiasts often wonder what foods will improve their performance. The answer, however, depends on the athlete. If they are looking to consume quick and easy packaged foods filled with an assortment of mystery ingredients, athletes can choose from the variety of store-bought gu energy gels, supplements, and powders. But, if you are seeking a whole food option filled with natural minerals and vitamins athletes can try delicious plant-based foods such as raisins, dates, bananas or coconut water.

The benefits of consuming whole food options during exercise include the naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and nutrients that the foods offer, opposed to the mystery ingredients in sports nutrition products such as maltodextrin, leucine, natural flavoring, gellan gum, pectin powder, and isoleucine.

The purpose of gu energy gels, supplements and tablets is to enhance athletic performance while restoring the carbohydrates and minerals lost during exercise. The difference in consuming a whole food is that athletes are able to receive the same performance enhancing nutrients, minerals and energy without the added ingredients.

Why Eat During Exercise?

Endurance athletes who exercise for periods of 90 minutes or more burn through their stored glycogen and electrolytes. In an effort to refuel the body with the needed energy and minerals necessary to continue exercising, athletes must seek foods and/or drinks high in easily digestible carbohydrates and minerals.

Listed below are several whole food options that offer a high amount of natural carbohydrates and electrolyte minerals.


Bananas are a great food to eat during exercise. The tropical fruit offers the body a quickly absorbed source of energy as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and copper.

Some of the health benefits that  bananas boast include the improvement of kidney disorders, relief from menstrual cramps, improved eye and bone health, and much more.



One of the greatest benefits to consuming raisins is that they offer a high glycemic index which is quickly digested and used for energy during exercise.

Nutritionally, raisins offer the body an assortment of minerals and vitamins including potassium, copper, manganese, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin, C, K and B vitamins. All of these vitamins and minerals are all available in their natural, pure state.

Some of the health benefits that raisins are known to offer include the promotion of cardiac health, reduced blood pressure, healthy weight gain, prevention of anemia and much more.

 3. FigsDark Chocolate and Sea Salt Fig and Oat Bars

Dried figs are a delicious fruit to try during exercise, they are so sweet and easy to eat. They also offer a variety of beneficial vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, A and B vitamins, as well as potassium, manganese, calcium, and magnesium.

Some of the health benefits that figs are said to offer include a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, improved digestion, strengthened bones, the prevention of vision loss, hypertension prevention, and much more.

4. DatesWalnut and Cashew Cheese Stuffed Dates 4

Dried dates can be eaten by themselves or in homemade energy bars. They are easy to eat during exercise and offer a variety of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin K, potassium, manganese, copper, magnesium, and iron.

Some of the health benefits that they boast include helping you grow stronger bones, develop fewer allergic reactions, maintain a healthy weight, and much more.

5. Homemade Fruit and Vegetable PuréeInner Peas: Perfect Pea Purée [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Homemade fruit and vegetable purée is a great snack to take along during exercise. Fresh, whole fruits and vegetables placed into a blender or food processor can quickly become your favorite on-the-run snack. Some suggestions of foods to create into a purée include sweet potato, apple, and oranges. Purées can be made in large batches in advance to save time and money.

To consume during exercise, place your purée mixture in a reusable or biodegradable bag to bring during exercise.

6. Homemade Energy Bars3 Ingredient Cherry Pistachio Energy Bars [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Homemade energy bars can be made from a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and superfoods. Energy bars are great for prolonged endurance events that require the refueling of carbohydrates, protein, and fats.

Check out our vegan nutrition bars recipe page for all kinds of bars packed with flavor and nutrients.

7. Packaged Whole Foods

Healthy Plant-Based, Whole Food Options for Endurance ExerciseSprout/Amazon

Aside from creating homemade vegetable purees and energy bars, there is also a variety of organic, naturally made packed products available. Some healthy products that contain organic and natural ingredients include Buddy Fruits, Sprout, Happy Baby, and Navitas Naturals.

When choosing a packed food be sure to check the ingredients list to ensure that the list is short and understandable.

8. Coconut water

 Here Asia/Shutterstock

Coconut water is a wonderful source of vitamins and electrolytes for athletes. One serving of coconut water contains 295 mg of potassium which is which 15 times the amount of potassium in the average sports drink. Aside from the incredible amount of potassium found in coconut water, the drink also offers electrolyte minerals such as sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium.

In addition to the electrolytes, coconut water is also rich in vitamins and other healthy properties. Coconut water contains B vitamins, trace minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.

Some of the health benefits that coconut water is known for include anti-aging, improved digestion, improved kidney function, improved skin health, improved immune function, the prevention of dehydration, improved exercise performance, and much more.

Foods are generally consumed every 30 minutes during an endurance athletic event, but the amount of food consumed will depend on the athlete. A general recommendation is about 30 grams of a carbohydrate every 30 minutes. The precise amount to consume will depend on height, weight, gender and exercise level.

With these awesome plant-based options you now have at your fingertips, you are all ready to excel in your particular sport! Go get ’em!

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Lead image source: Banana Hemp Seed Sushi Slices