Here’s an oddity. I took up running four years or so back as part of a general kick to become fitter, less fat and all together healthier. It’s clearly worked too. Not only can I now do things like run marathons quite quickly, but I’ve transformed my diet, cutting out masses of chocolatey, biscuity things and adding in lots of fruit and veg and salads and stuff.
The odd bit? Well, as counterintuitive as it seems, taking up running has helped reintroduce me to many of the sugary sweets and snacks I remember from my childhood but had long since moved on from, even in the worst of my ‘Fatters’ days.
Of course, this time there is some purpose to the sugary sweet things: it’s all about energy. If you’re going to run, you need energy: before, during and after. The science bit is that you need energy in easy-to-digest carbohydrate form so it will start working faster (I should add here, as should be obvious, that I’m not a trained sports scientist, so if you want the proper science best go look elsewhere).
That’s why the shelves of running shops and the like are full of those carbohydrate and energy-filled gels, all scientifically designed to get you energy quickly during exercise. And, well, it turns out that sweets such as jelly babies or jelly beans actually actually have a very similar mix of sugary carbohydrates.
Add to that the fact that race organisers like to give out treats to runners who’ve just finished a race – because if you don’t deserve a treat after a race, when do you? – and runners get plenty of opportunity to relive their childhood sweet-eating days without the guilt (well, with only a bit of guilt).
In fact, along with the almost inevitable banana (which I rarely eat, since I’ve already eaten one…), most races end with me walking away with a small bag of sweets that double as some fine childhood memories.
Here are some of the childhood sweets I’d almost forgotten about – and how suited they are to running.
A classic, although quite odd when you look at them through grown-up eyes. I mean, whose idea was to make multi-coloured sweets shaped like, well, babies? And why didn’t I realise during my childhood that eating Jelly Babies by starting with the head was all a bit sinister?
Still, there are few better sweets to eat during a long run. They’re practically the same make-up as most energy gels, but are a little more solid to chew on, if you like that sort of thing. And you can still actually taste them at that strange part of a marathon when your exhausted body start playing weird tricks with your mind.
In this case, of the Haribo variety. Fizzy cola bottle sweets are really quite sharp and tangy, which can make them something of an acquired taste when running (or, indeed, at other times). I’ve always been confused why fizzy cola bottles don’t really taste that much like actual cola, at least to me.
Incidentally, Haribo’s most popular product is its gummi bears, which also make decent running energy snacks. I find them a slightly tough chew than Jelly Babies which, for me, means they’re not so suited to mid-run chomping. A small packet makes a fine post-race pick-me-up, though.
You can get these in Britain now, but they’re probably more of an American thing. They certainly weren’t as common growing up, which makes me somewhat less nostalgic for them.
The big difference between Jelly Beans and Jelly Babies – aside from the fact they’re less intrinsically sinister by design – is that they have a hard outer shell, so they take a lot more chewing. If you like to take your time with your energy snacks, that’s a good thing.
In America, you can now buy Sport Beans, which are designed as mid-exercise performance snacks. I’ve a deep suspicion they’re essentially exactly the same as regular ones, albeit in slightly plainer flavours (there are some odd flavours of Jelly Beans…), but even so, my Texan marathon experiences have made me a fan. Mixing energy gels with a pack or two of Sport Beans gives me a good variety of energy sources during a run. I think.
A variant of the above, really, and I’ve done a few events in the last few months that have given them out post-race. I’ve found they’re less than ideal for such a purpose, because they’re huge, so you can’t fit them into your mouth all at once. Trying to manage biting a chunk off a jelly snake in a dazed post-race aftermath is quite a challenge.
Another childhood classic. The sugar coating on the outside sets them apart from Wine Gums, and also reminds you they’re not intrinsically healthy. A little hard for chewing while running.
Love Hearts may be the oddest sweets of all. They’ve got a distinctive texture for one thing: they’re hard, and powdery or chalky in texture. But that means you can chew or suck them quite successfully. And they’re not quite as sugary sharp as other sweets, which is a bit of a benefit in the aftermath of a run. Which is good, because mini packs of Love Hearts seem to be a frequent sweet-based giveaway at the end of races.
But really, Love Hearts are odd. Odder than Jelly Babies, even. Who devised a tablet-shaped, slightly powdery sweet, looked at it and decided that a way to improve it was to inscribe love-related messages such as ‘Kiss Me’, ‘U Rock’ and ‘All Yours’ on them?
Of course, this is only scraping the surface of the large childhood sweet tin. I’ll probably think of more soon – likely the next time I’m at the end of a race and there’s a goodby bag handed out. I may write about some more soon. Anyone got any childhood sweets they’ve particularly enjoyed reuniting with through running?
Whenever I head off to a race, one of the essential things I’ll pack is a banana. Why? Because eating a banana around an hour before a race is an important part of my pre-race routine. Oddly though, I normally arrive home from a race with… a banana.
Am I some form of banana magician, able to eat one and then conjure another up from thin air? Do I go banana shopping on the way home from a race? Is my house next door to a banana tree?
No. It’s just that an loads of races – I’d say the vast majority I’ve ever done – offer up a banana as one of your post-race treats. But, since I rarely feel like eating a banana after a race, I invariably end up taking my reward banana home, which I guess makes my running day out an essentially banana-neutral activity.
It’s only just struck me this might be a bit odd. I was resting up after finishing a race recently, and found myself admiring the huge stack of boxes at the finish, all full of bananas waiting to be handed out to race finishers. It made me ask myself whether I was having my banana at the wrong time. Am I supposed to have a banana after a race, and not before?
To try and discover the answer I turned, naturally, to the internet. Because I’m bound to find calm, reasoned and indisputable facts on the internet. After some searching, I actually think I did. And it turns out that bananas offer plentiful benefits when eaten both before and after a run.
Now, I’m not a nutritionist, fitness expert, doctor or, erm, Bananaman (though it was one of my favourite cartoons growing up…), but basically bananas are packed with carbs that are good to top up your pre-run energy reserves. And they also contain potassium and several other minerals that you sweat away during exercise.
So bananas are good for you before and after a run. Which leads to another question: should I follow up my pre-run banana by eating a post-race banana as well? Well no, I don’t think I should. Frankly that would, to use a tortuous play on words you can see coming (and for which I apologise in advance), quite literally be… bananas. (It’s funny, see, because there’d be two bananas. What’s that? You got the joke and still aren’t laughing? Oh. So my joke wasn’t funny? Erm, well, sorry then.)
Maybe one day I’ll try switching, foregoing my pre-run banana for a post-race one. But that feels wrong: after all, I eat a banana before a race. Even though, deep down, I know it doesn’t really convey any real performance benefits at my level, but because once you develop a pre-run routine it’s hard to shake off.
But that’s just me. Clearly, many people prefer their bananas after a run. So which is it: bananas – before a race or after?