On its website, apparel company Tracksmith describes itself as a “champion for the Running Class.” Who belongs in this mysterious demographic? From the looks of Tracksmith’s fall catalog (theme: Camp Tracksmith), the Running Class is composed of slender youths who spend their days scampering through the pastoral idylls of New England, lounging in airy mansions, staring into the half-distance, and wearing a lot of maroon and navy. Flipping through the catalog’s pages (and scrolling through Tracksmith.com), one becomes wistful that one never ran cross-country at an Ivy League institution. Who would have thought that running, of all things, could make for such effective aspirational branding?

Tracksmith CEO and co-founder Matt Taylor, for one. He competed for Yale in track and cross-country in the late 1990s, an experience that would lay the foundation for his future career. After graduating, Taylor entered the sportswear industry, eventually rising to head of global marketing in Puma’s running department. In 2014, he partnered with Rapha co-founder Luke Scheybeler to launch Tracksmith, a company hoping to distinguish itself in a running apparel landscape that, as Taylor saw it, had become too homogenous. Rather than the flashy colors favored by major running brands, the Tracksmith style would take inspiration from past eras of New England running culture and prioritize understated, classic design over the glitz of ephemeral trends. As for his nascent brand’s target audience, Taylor (a 4:10 miler and 2:40 marathoner) wanted Tracksmith to register with runners like himself—that subset of devotees who were obsessed with the sport but would never run professionally.

The Running Class, it turns out, isn’t populated solely by the woodland sprites bounding through the pages of the Tracksmith catalog, but by anyone whose relationship to the sport is defined by more than just a casual fling. As Taylor explained it to me:

“It’s people who are competitive but not professional and people who are competitive but not participatory. Ultimately, running gear can be used for a lot of different activities, but our sweet spot are those people who have a strong commitment and passion for running—it’s more of a psychographic than a demographic for us.”

In other words, it’s an attitude thing. Nevertheless, making any sort of distinction between a “competitive” runner, as opposed to a “participatory” one, can be a delicate business (believe me, I know). Though Taylor told me that his company doesn’t categorize customers based on how many miles they run or how fast they are, some aspects of the brand’s ethos might still register as elitist. For one, Tracksmith sells a BQ Singlet that is available only to those who have qualified and registered for the Boston Marathon. (The company verifies qualifying times and race entry status at the time of purchase.) After I’d spent some time on the site, the banner ad that pursued me around the web didn’t mince words: “Tracksmith: Premium Apparel for the Competitive Runner.”

Unsurprisingly, the most common grievance one encounters online is that Tracksmith charges too much for its wares. The Running Class, a cynic might protest, is basically anyone who would shell out $90 for a pair of sweatpants. This sentiment is creatively echoed on a parody website that substitutes Tracksmith’s golden hare logo with a golden dachshund and with a mission statement reading, in part: “We created a luxury brand. To intimidate those who can’t afford it. To make people feel that you have to look a certain way to run. And looking a certain way costs money.”

Is such criticism fair? To some extent, Tracksmith’s air of exclusivity is more a product of preppy branding than exorbitant price tags. As far as the latter goes, Nike, still by far the biggest player on the running apparel scene, doesn’t shy away from asking $150 for a pair of running tights, and its new marathon racing shoe retails for a steep $250. Furthermore, if your running shirt has a swoosh on it, chances are it was manufactured in China, Sri Lanka, or Cambodia, whereas a handful of Tracksmith items—like the Grayboy T-shirt and the Run Bra—are Massachusetts-made. When I spoke to Taylor, he said that one distinction between the pro runner and the dedicated amateur is that the professional is inundated with free stuff, and hence incentivized to toss a piece of gear as soon as it shows signs of wear. Tracksmith’s products, according to Taylor, are made with the expectation that they will be worn and washed “hundreds and hundreds of times” and potentially “handed down.”

I have to admit that the idea of bequeathing used half-tights to my eventual offspring—the jock equivalent of the proverbial grandfather’s watch—strikes me as pretty bizarre. Then again, recasting ordinary sportswear as a luxury “heritage” item is central to Tracksmith’s special alchemy. If they’ve been manufactured by Tracksmith, the aforementioned half-tights will have been made from the company’s special Inverno Blend fabric—an Italy-sourced micro-nylon lauded in the catalog for its “buttery-soft” feel. I hereby challenge anyone who is still with me here to name another running apparel brand that describes one of its products as “buttery.”

So, does it all amount to a kind of snobbery? Of course it does. It’s the kind of snobbery that, as someone often unimpressed with a lot of mass-market running clothes, I’ll be the first to admit I find very seductive. (But I’m also the kind of guy who, at least according to my Facebook ad algorithm, would spring for those horrible tech-bro loafers.) On the whole, I agree with the Letsrun.com poster who was grateful to Tracksmith for infusing the running apparel scene with some much-needed variation, even if he didn’t necessarily view himself as a potential Tracksmith customer. But as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, variation on the running scene isn’t only a matter of product selection, but, more crucially, of making sure the sport isn’t prepackaged as an activity reserved for suburbanites with six-figure incomes.

In that sense, when you base your brand’s identity on the legacy of New England running culture, you have your work cut out for you.


During a long trail run or intense ride, replenishing energy stores is key. But to do so during your effort requires products that can be opened, eaten, and processed swiftly and simply. That means traditional bars or fruit are off the table. Enter the sports gel, packets of quick-digesting sugars to provide a burst of energy as you fatigue during longer efforts. These aren’t just everyday snacks: Gels are specifically designed to be consumed 15 minutes prior to starting your race or every 30 to 45 minutes throughout. (And always wash them down with water.)

Because we’re constantly putting ourselves through hours-long runs, rides, hikes, and more, we know a good or bad gel when we taste one. Our staffers surveyed upwards of 15 flavors from four different brands, and, frankly, we can’t recommend many of them. We’ve sacrificed our taste buds, subjected ourselves to severe cases of dry mouth, and endured bizarrely textured mouthfuls of syrupy stuff all in the name of creating a foolproof roster of gels that are actually good. Don’t stray from this list and you’ll be rewarded with midrace fuel that tastes good and gets the job done. (Spoiler: If you see peanut butter or chocolate on the shelf, grab it.)


Hammer Gel

energy
(Courtesy Hammer Nutrition)

Peanut Butter

If you’re a peanut butter lover, try Hammer’s gluten-free peanut butter energy gel. Its taste and texture resemble a spoonful of the real thing straight from the jar.

Our Thoughts

“It was like eating a big glob of Skippy, which is fine by me. This, with some water after, is definitely my fave.” —Jenny Earnest, assistant social media editor

Physically, I felt much more alert and energetic.” Mitch Breton, video curator

energy
(Courtesy Hammer Nutrition)

Peanut Butter Chocolate

Add a little chocolate to the mix, and even our most gel-averse testers go for it.

Our Thoughts

“I am usually not a gel person, but this got me through a trail run without a sugar crash.” —Erin Berger, associate editor

This is everything I want at mile 20.Carly Graf, assistant editor

energy
(Courtesy Hammer Nutrition)

Nocciola

The rich chocolate-hazelnut flavor tastes more like frosting than any sort of workout fuel, making for a welcome treat when you’re pushing hard.

Our Thoughts

“Before my workout, my legs were groaning for a tempo day, but I had this 15 minutes before starting, and not long thereafter I was ready to put some metal in my pedal. I definitely credit Hammer’s gel for the boost.Aleta Burchyski, copy editor

“It’s super thick, which is definitely great in some ways, but just be sure to have a full supply of water at the ready.” —C.G.


Clif Shot Energy Gel

energy
(Courtesy CLIF)

Razz

The thin consistency makes it easy to get down quickly between strides and prevents the dry-mouth syndrome that can follow thicker gels.

Our Thoughts

“Equally fruity and delicious. I took it right before a three-mile hike. I usually feel lethargic and slow for the first mile or so; this time, I was immediately off at a good pace.” —M.B.

“I’m typically sort of turned off by fruity flavors, but this one tasted like raspberry candy. —E.B.

clif-energy-gel-chocolate_h.jpg

Chocolate

Gooey with a distinct, not-too-sweet chocolate flavor, this gel made fans out of our testers.

Our Thoughts

“It’s super thick, which I like, almost like eating a spoonful of Nutella.” —Ben Fox, assistant editor

“After this experiment, I’ve come to realize that there is a difference between thick, icing-like sport goos, which are delicious in chocolatey flavors, and translucent gels.” —E.B.

energy
(Courtesy CLIF)

Mocha

Chocolate and coffee pair perfectly for taste and performance.

Our Thoughts

“Knocked three seconds off my typical stationary-bike mile pace, despite too little sleep and too much red wine the night before. The bonus 50 milligrams of caffeine was everything.” —A.B.

Maybe it was just placebo, but I felt like I got a decent hit of energy from this one. —C.G.


Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels

energy
(Courtesy Honey Stinger)

Chocolate

The darkest chocolate of the bunch and naturally caffeinated with green tea extract for an even greater energy boost.

Our Thoughts

“The chocolate doesn’t overpower the flavor of the honey, so it’s more like the classic Honey Stinger with a hint of chocolate.” —B.F.

I live for chocolate, and this one was the richest of the bunch. —C.G.

energy
(Courtesy Honey Stinger)

Fruit Smoothie

Grab this packet if you want a gel that doesn’t flirt with classic dessert flavors as much as the chocolate and peanut butter varieties. Plus, this one has added electrolytes to prevent cramping and a blend of natural fruit flavors.

Our Thoughts

“I had it before a workout and assumed I was in for a regular Thursday lunch workout—until I looked at my stats and saw that I’d set a PR.” —A.B.

“If you’re really into sour-sweet candy as fuel, this one’s for you.”—E.B.


Hüma Chia Energy Gel

energy
(Courtesy Huma Gel)

Huma Plus: Berries and Pomegranate

Only go for this one if you’re in the mood for über-sweet.

Our Thoughts

“I have a very high tolerance for the sweet stuff, so this didn’t overwhelm me, and it provided nice contrast to my typical icing-like flavors.” —C.G.

“I realized when heading to the gym at lunch that I forgot to eat breakfast, so I greatly appreciated this gel’s generous serving size.” —A.B.

energy

Strawberries

A gluten-free, vegan option that tastes just like fruit puree.

Our Thoughts

Just like salted strawberry puree, right down to the texture, which is much easier to get behind than the usual gluey gel consistency.—A.B.

“I preferred this thicker texture to all the others I tried, and it tasted decently of raspberries, though a little sweet.” —E.B.

When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we earn an affiliate commission that helps pay for our work.


“The kettlebell swing is the ultimate single exercise to improve strength, endurance, coordination, stability of the hips and core, and grip strength,” says Grant Anderson, co-owner and director of strength at Chicago Primal Gym. The move involves your whole body from start to finish, so it forces your cardiovascular and muscular systems to work together, which translates well to outdoor sports. And a set of swings is a total sufferfest, so you’re building some serious mental grit in the process.

“Many people are quad dominant,” says Noam Tamir, founder of TS Fitness in New York City. “Kettlebell swings fire up the hip-dominant muscles rather than the quads, which helps to bring balance to the body.” Translation: Your body will distribute weight and effort more equally, which is crucial if you want to prevent injury and maximize performance.

There are two types of basic kettlebell swings: the Russian version and the American version. You may have seen people doing the American swing in the gym or at a CrossFit box, where they swing the bell up and overhead, but this can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. “There isn’t much more gained from going overhead with the kettlebell, but there is a lot more risk,” says Tamir. Without proper mobility, this move can put pressure on the neck and possibly throw you out of alignment. The overhead position also makes it difficult not to go into hyperextension of the lower back, says Tamir, which could lead to injury. The Russian swing—where you stop swinging the bell upwards at eye-level and bring it back down—is your best bet: You’ll avoid injury and get the same physical payoffs. 

Perfect the Basic Swing

If you’re brand new to the kettlebell, start with a 16-kilogram (35-pound) option; but if you have a little experience, use a 24-kilogram (53-pound) bell. That may sound heavy for your first swing, but going big can actually help you learn better technique and going too light can downgrade the impact of the exercise, says Anderson. “Doing swings with light bells is often counterproductive, because your upper body can easily take over the load,” he explains. This leaves your hips and hammies—the main targeted areas—out of the exercise.

Start by standing with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out and the kettlebell about a foot in front of you. Hinge your hips back so your chest and eyes are pointed toward the ground about five feet in front of you. Reach and grab the handle of the bell with an overhand grip, tilting the bell back toward you. Your shoulders are higher than your hips, and your hips higher than your knees. Sharply inhale through your nose as you hike the bell back between your legs, keeping it high above your knees. Sharply exhale through your mouth as you stand quickly, driving your feet into the ground and bracing your body in a “vertical plank,” squeezing your glutes and quads and bracing your abs. As you do, keep your arms straight and use the momentum of your hip thrust to bring the bell in front of your chest. Let the bell hang there around shoulder height for just a moment. Bring the bell back down toward hip height by hinging your hips back; repeat. Repeat in sets of five to ten reps.

Scale It Up

After you’ve learned the basic swing and progressed with heavier loads to the point where doing more than three or four swings feels very difficult, these variations will spice up your training so you continue to improve, says Tamir.

Single-Arm Swing

How It Helps: Focusing on a single arm forces you to practice grip strength and activates the smaller stabilizer muscles in your shoulder.

How to Do It: Set up the same way as you do for a double-arm swing, but grip the kettlebell with one hand. Line up the free hand parallel to the hand that’s gripping the kettlebell. When swinging the kettlebell backward between your legs, your free hand should mimic the movement pattern, parallel to the arm in use. Continue the hinge motion as you would if both your hands were on the bell.

Alternate KB Swings

How It Helps: This progression builds hand-eye coordination and teaches your muscles how to react quickly to changing demands.

How to Do It: Set up the same way as you do for the single-arm swing, but when the bell reaches shoulder height, transfer it to the other hand by placing the free hand over the working hand and quickly exchanging the kettlebell to the other hand during the floating phase. Continue the swing, switching hands at the top of each swing.

KB Clean

How It Helps: This exercise develops strength in the entire legs while working on muscle control during tighter, smaller movements.

How to Do It: Set up the same way as you do for the single-arm swing. As you hinge forward and bring the bell toward your chest, loosen your grip when the bell reaches your hips. Quickly tuck your elbow back toward your body so it touches your side and turn your palm inward so it’s facing your head. The bell should fall naturally over the top of your wrist. Return to the backswing by rotating your hand down toward the ground with the thumb facing your body and the pinkie facing away from you, keeping the kettlebell as close to your body as you can and swinging back through your legs.


In a world of green juice and chia seed pudding, this age-old dish is the original, and perhaps most powerful, superfood, especially for athletes competing at the highest levels.

“I’ve asked a lot of elite endurance athletes about their breakfast foods, particularly before races, and oatmeal comes up again and again and again,” says Matt Fitzgerald, endurance coach, nutritionist, and author of The Endurance Diet.

You’re most likely to see oatmeal served with a ton of fixin’s, but even a bowl of plain oats holds its own as a nutritional panacea. Oatmeal is a whole grain (unless you buy oat bran—just part of the seed—as opposed to rolled oats) filled with key vitamins and minerals, a low-glycemic carb that provides lasting energy for your workout and helps fuel recovery without causing a sugar crash, and high in fiber to aid your digestive and metabolic systems.

But a bowl of oats is also a big blank canvas, ready to be combined with a truckload of other high-quality, nutritious ingredients that make it even better training food. “That’s one of oatmeal’s great virtues. You can take it in so many directions,” says Fitzgerald.

Even energy bar companies use it. Two-time Ironman champion Jesse Thomas’ Picky Bars just released Picky Oats, a lineup of better-for-the-athlete instant oatmeal chock-full of real ingredients to support performance, rather than added sugars or fake health foods. “I literally believe that besides energy bars, oatmeal is the next most pervasive food for athletes,” says Thomas.

It’s easy to make. All you have to do is boil a ratio of 1/2 cup rolled oats to one cup liquid—either water or a milk of your choice—and top it with whatever you need that day. (For steel-cut oats, change the ratio to 1/4 cup oats to one cup liquid.) Here’s how six athletes do it.


Gwen Jorgensen

Triathlete

Gwen Jorgensen is arguably the most dominant triathlete alive. In 2014 and 2015, she competed in 12 World Triathlon Series races and won every single one, becoming the back-to-back ITU World Triathlon Series champion. As such, Jorgensen trains a lot—often three or four times in one day—which means she needs to eat just as much. “When I first started training for triathlons, I wasn’t eating enough, and it showed in my performance,” she said last year. “I started to work with a nutritionist, and we decided to start front-loading my days. I now eat a larger breakfast and lunch.” Her breakfast staple: the world’s biggest bowl of oatmeal.

“Gwen Jorgensen’s oatmeal recipe is notorious,” says Fitzgerald. Jorgensen says she eats this at least six days a week, including before races, and never gets sick of it.

Big Bowl o’ Oats

  • 4 cups water or milk
  • 2 cups oats
  • 4 eggs (Poach ahead of time in water with a bit of vinegar and salt.)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

Cook and top with generous servings of sliced banana, raisins, yogurt, berries, dried fruit, nuts, and/or peanut butter.


Lucy Bartholomew

Ultrarunner

Lucy Bartholomew is a 21-year-old Melbourne-based ultrarunner who transitioned to an entirely plant-based diet a few years ago. “I first made the switch based purely on thinking it was the healthier choice. I quickly learned that you have to be educated about it, and that you can’t simply cut out a food group and hope for the pyramid to remain stable, especially as a female long-distance runner,” she says. Oatmeal, which Bartholomew enjoys before and after runs, has become one of her staple dishes, in part because it allows for a variety of ingredients and macronutrients—fat, carbs, and protein. “I always carry a bag of quick oats at airports and hotels,” she says. Before a run, she keeps it classic: a little maple syrup and nut butter stirred in right at the end, then topped with banana and cinnamon. But to expedite her recovery, Bartholomew has a more indulgent recipe.

Carrot Cake Recovery Oatmeal

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • One grated carrot
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Cook and top with 1/4 cup each walnuts and chopped dates, plus a sprinkle of cinnamon.


Mark Healey

Big-wave surfer

Surfer Mark Healey depends on oatmeal before big days on the ocean. His go-to recipe perfectly balances nutrients, delivering carbohydrates and immediate energy in the form of bananas and raisins, a bit of protein from chia seeds, and satiating healthy fats in coconut oil and butter.

Fatty Oats

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • Organic butter
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Cook and top with one sliced banana, 1/4 cup raisins, and one tablespoon chia seeds.


Cat Bradley

Ultrarunner

Cat Bradley, this year’s Western States winner, is a self-proclaimed oat queen. She’s been eating oatmeal for breakfast for years and sometimes doubles up in one day, eating it for lunch as well. Bradley’s simple breakfast oats dole out fats (nut butter and Frost’d Turmeric-Coconut Oil Snack Frosting), sugars (frozen blueberries and RAD almond-quinoa granola), and carbohydrates (mainly the oats) to keep her fueled and satiated. Her recovery recipe includes turmeric and eggs, which help reduce inflammation and build muscle, respectively.

Savory Oats

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
  • Salt, pepper, turmeric, and chopped garlic, all to taste
  • Fried egg (Prepared ahead of time.)

Cook oats with salt, pepper, turmeric and garlic, and top with seasonal veggies and a fried egg.


Kirsten Sweetland

Canadian Olympic triathlete

“I always have oatmeal before races, but I rarely eat it as my daily breakfast otherwise,” says Kirsten Sweetland, a 29-year-old former junior world champion triathlete. She’s a fan of the KIS method—Keep It Simple—and wants just enough carbs to “keep me full but not too full and give me enough energy to race.”

KIS Oats

Cook and top with 1/4 cup frozen berries plus one tablespoon each cacao and hemp seeds.


Steph Violett

Ultrarunner

Steph Violett, a nutritionist, The North Face–sponsored ultrarunner, and winner of the 2014 Western States race, prefers her oatmeal after runs. Depending on her mood, Violett adds proteins and fats in the form of eggs, cheese, and pumpkin puree. “Oatmeal is one of my favorite comfort foods, especially when it’s cold outside,” she says.

Pumpkin Oats

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree

Cook and top with cinnamon, one tablespoon maple syrup, and 1/4 cup pecans.


Believe it or not, sugar fatigue is a thing. We love our candy-like sports chews and gels that resemble icing, but eventually we crave a heartier, more savory alternative. Brands have started to notice this shortcoming and are stepping up to fill the void. They’re putting power foods like nuts, whole grains, and chickpeas into their snacks to provide a balanced set of nutrients and to give your taste buds a break.

But which ones are best? Great question. We asked our staffers to take a break from training for ultras, going on 50-mile death rides, and spending entirely too many hours at the crag to sample five brands and a variety of flavors and then score each snack on a scale of one (awful) to ten (great). Here are our nine favorites.


#9. Clif Organic Energy Food Pizza Margherita

bars
(Courtesy CLIF)

Although the texture can take some getting used to, this creation lets you take the always-delicious taste of pizza with you on trail runs or hikes.

Average Score: 5.8

What We Love: “Sometimes you just want to fuel with real food, and this is darn close.” —Aleta Burchyski, copy editor

What We Didn’t: “Reminds me a little too much of elementary school Lunchables.” —Nicholas Hunt, assistant editor

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#8. Clif Organic Energy Food Sweet Potato with Sea Salt

bars
(Courtesy CLIF)

Filled with sweet potatoes and sunflower seed butter, this pouch gives you the ultimate balance of quick-digesting carbs and protein for those slow-burn endurance activities.

Average Score: 6

What We Love: “Pretty good. Salty. Tastes great after a long ride.” —Paul Trotman, accounting manager

What We Didn’t: “The texture is a bit too much like baby food.” —Will Palmer, copy editor

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#7. Mediterra Savory Bar with Kale, Apple, Quinoa, and Almonds

bars
(Courtesy Mediterra)

You can smell apples as soon as you tear open the package, but the subtle fruity sweetness is balanced by oregano and sea salt. A hint of cashew butter keeps you satisfied for longer than most energy bars.

Average Score: 6.4

What We Love: “Interesting flavor combo. I love it, and great texture, too.” —N.H.

What We Didn’t: “Love this flavor. But seeing how this is a savory bar, I wasn’t prepared for how sweet it was.” —Colette Harris, editorial fellow

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#6. Sheffa Everything Savory Bar

bars
(Courtesy Sheffa)

Like eating an everything bagel in cracker form, this bar is perfect if you’re looking for something truly savory as you recover. Chickpeas, sunflower seeds, and olive oil give the bar its crunchy texture, no artificial ingredients required.

Average Score: 6.75

What We Love: “Good savory snack. I would buy it.” —Jenny Earnest, assistant social media editor

What We Didn’t: “A little too much of everything. I wanted more subtlety.” —Petra Zeiler, deputy art director

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#5. Sheffa Rosemary Savory Bar

bars
(Courtesy Sheffa)

This bar combines rosemary with brown rice, quinoa, millet, and amaranth for a snack that satisfies serious salty cravings after a big effort.

Average Score: 7.1

What We Love: “Delicious. Similar to a cracker. I could snack on these all day long.” —P.Z.

What We Didn’t: “As an energy bar alone? No. But with wine and cheese? Yum.” —Svati Kirsten Narula, assistant social media editor

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#4. Kind Sweet & Spicy Roasted Jalapeño Bar

bars
(Courtesy KIND)

For some, this bar had just the right amount of spice, while others wanted more heat. Pumpkin seeds, almonds, and jalapeño up the flavor without adding much sugar.

Average Score: 7.5

What We Love: “Nice subtle spice. Much more would be overkill.” —Christopher D. Thompson, visual producer

What We Didn’t: “Where’s the jalapeño?” —N.H.

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#3. Larabar Organic with Superfoods Turmeric, Ginger, and Beet

bars
(Courtesy LARABAR)

The mix of dates, almonds, unsweetened apples, beet powder, turmeric, and ginger is smoky and spicy. It’s perfect for anyone with tough dietary restrictions since it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and non-GMO.

Average Score: 8.3

What We Love: “I wouldn’t call it a real savory bar, but it’s a case study in how to do turmeric and ginger right.” —A.B.

What We Didn’t: “Ginger was strong, but I’m not sure there was any beet. Maybe I didn’t recognize it?” —Madeline Kelty, deputy photo editor

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#2. Kind Sweet & Spicy Sweet Cayenne BBQ Bar

bars
(Courtesy KIND)

This crunchy bar offers ten grams of plant-based protein—far from common in sports products. Staffers still can’t quite figure out how this bar, which tastes just like a barbecue smokehouse, is totally meat-free.

Average Score: 8.9

What We Love: “My brain thinks I’m eating ribs, but I’m not. So that’s an extra healthy bonus.” —C.D.T.

What We Didn’t: “Reminds me of a baked Lay’s potato chip.” —M.K.

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#1. Mediterra Savory Bar with Kale, Pomegranate, Quinoa, and Almonds

bars
(Courtesy Mediterra)

Made with a blend of pomegranate, kale, almonds, pea crisps, and quinoa, this Mediterranean flavor easily took the top spot. It combines the best flavors of the anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet into one bite-sized snack.

Average Score: 9.5

What We Love: “Nice hint of tart sweetness without the bonk of a sugary snack. This plus a can of wine would be everything for a sunset hike.” —A.B.

What We Didn’t: “Wanted a little more pomegranate flavor.” —P.Z.

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When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we earn an affiliate commission that helps pay for our work.


Like most athletes who would rather be outdoors running, riding, swimming, or hiking, I don’t set aside much time for the gym. Yet I fully realize the importance of building general strength and mobility—not just to support my outdoor activities, but also for everyday health and fitness. I’d like to be able to unload groceries, haul suitcases up and down stairs, and bend over to put on my shoes well into my eighties. That means I have to go to the gym a few days a week. But when I’m there, I try to focus solely on the essentials. (If you’re willing to buy a kettlebell, some dumbbells, and a pull-up bar, you don’t even need to leave your home.)

Thinking I might be on to something good—but far from sure—I recently worked up the courage to put my 35-to-40-minute routine to the ultimate test: Twitter.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, and a handful of experts liked or retweeted the post. I wanted to learn more about why they agreed, so I reached out to some of the best in the business for details.

  • “What you have designed is an effective ‘minimalist’ workout that travels well, easily adapted to many different environments with minimum equipment necessary,” says Vern Gambetta, a veteran strength coach who works with numerous world champion athletes and professional sports teams.
  • “Simple beats optimal,” according to Brett Bartholomew, a strength and conditioning coach for NFL football players and the author of Conscious Coaching. “Habits work. Consistency works. The simpler something is, the more indelible it becomes.”
  • “This workout hits four major basic movements: push, pull, squat, and hinge,” comments Michael Lord, a sports chiropractor who treats and trains elite athletes in Northern California. “It also uses full ranges of motions, so it’s accomplishing mobility work within a strength routine.”

Here’s a closer look at the routine and some additional insight from the pros. Lord recommends going through this workout at least twice a week, starting by doing three sets of each exercise (with one to two minutes of rest in between) before moving to the next. As for how many reps you should do in each set, Lord says to pick a number that will leave you fatigued by the end of the last set, but not so tired that your form is falling apart. For the exercises that involve dumbbells, select a weight that will put you in the six-to-12-rep range, he says.

As you get stronger, increase the weight or up the reps. According to Bartholomew, doing so will help promote continuous adaptation. If you want to add an aerobic boost to the workout, Gambetta suggests either adding 30 seconds of rope jumping or running in place between each exercise or making the workout a circuit. (In other words: Rather than doing three consecutive sets of each exercise with prolonged rest between each set, do three rounds, going from one exercise to the next, with only ten to 15 seconds of rest.)

Pull-Up

erin-wilson-exercise-final-pull-up.jpg
(Erin Wilson)

Grip the bar with your palms facing out and hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar. Hold for one second. Then extend all the way down so your arms are straight and elbows are locked. Throughout the movement, focus on keeping your core taut. You’ll know you’re achieving this because your legs won’t be swinging around. “Pull-ups are foundational, akin to eating your fruits and vegetables,” says Lord. “They include major muscles of the shoulders, upper back, and torso and train postural strength and core stability as much as the shoulders when performed properly.”

Goblet Squat

erin-wilson-exercise-final-goblet-squat.jpg
(Erin Wilson)

Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, feet pointing slightly out. Hold a kettlebell by the horns, or a dumbbell with palms facing up, close to your chest. Squat down, keeping your heels on the ground. At the lowest point, your butt should be parallel to or just below your knees. Then push up to a standing positioning, locking your knees at the top. “This movement carries a low risk of injury and helps keep your body in alignment,” says Bartholomew. “Since the weight is held close to your chest, not only is it a great tactile reminder to keep proper posture while squatting, but it also allows you to easily put the weight down if fatigued.”

Push-Up

erin-wilson-exercise-final-push-up.jpg
(Erin Wilson)

Begin with your chest down and palms pressing into the ground, thumbs at or a little outside of your nipples. Press up, locking your elbows at the top. Lower your back all the way down, so your chest hovers just a centimeter or two off the ground. Press up. Repeat. Be sure to tuck in your stomach and keep your core tight throughout the movement so you have minimal arch in your spine. “It seems simple, but when you break it down, a push-up is a great expression of core stability and connecting the upper and lower body,” says Lord. “A push-up is not only about strengthening your shoulders and chest, but also about strengthening your core; it’s like a dynamic plank.”

Standing Lunge or Split Squat

erin-wilson-exercise-final-standing-lunge.jpg
(Erin Wilson)

Stand straight, toes pointing forward, feet about six inches apart. If you’re using dumbbells to increase the challenge, hold an equal weight in each hand at your sides, arms straight. Step forward with either foot so your knee is above your ankle. Push through the heel of the forward leg to return to an upright standing positioning. Repeat, this time stepping down with the opposite leg. “Lunges target multiple muscle groups and transfer to many movements in daily life,” says Bartholomew. “You can also experiment with lateral lunges. It’s the same idea as a straight lunge, only you hold a single dumbbell at your chest and step out horizontally, lunging from side to side. This takes you out of straight-line movements, working other muscle groups that are often neglected by runners and cyclists.”

Single-Leg Deadlift

erin-wilson-exercise-final-single-deadlift.jpg
(Erin Wilson)

Stand on one leg, keeping your knee slightly bent. If you’re using dumbbells, hold them on the same side as the leg you’re standing on. Bend forward at the hip, extending your free leg straight behind you for balance. Continue lowering until your chest is parallel with the ground, dumbbell almost touching the floor. Then press back to an upright position. “This exercise brings it home as it combines the challenges of single-leg stability, lower-body mobility, strength, and posture,” says Lord.

Brad Stulberg (@Bstulberg) writes Outside’s Science of Performance column and is the author of the new book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.




Earlier this month, Edward Cheserek, a recent University of Oregon graduate and arguably the best collegiate runner in U.S. history, competed for the first time as a professional athlete. The 23-year-old Kenyan, who says he’s still a little dinged up from a long outdoor track season, ran the Fifth Avenue Mile in 3:57, finishing in 16th place. After years of watching “King Ches” tear it up on the college scene, it was a little disorienting to see him not in contention for the win. But the real surprise came with Cheserek’s choice of footwear: The man who won 15 individual NCAA titles for the institution that embraces its “University of Nike” image was (gasp!) shod in Skechers.

Well, okay, it wasn’t a total surprise. Skechers had announced that it signed Cheserek during the week leading up to Fifth Avenue, and the company has been upping the ante of its “performance” shoe game for several years. When Meb Keflezighi signed with Skechers in 2011, there was some derision from the running-snob peanut gallery. (As one LetsRun.com commenter put it at the time, “This is like Lance Armstrong signing a deal with Huffy.”) Skechers had the last laugh, however, as Meb unexpectedly won the Boston Marathon in 2014 while sporting a natty pair of GOmeb Speed 3 racers. A few weeks after Meb’s Boston heroics, Kara Goucher became the second elite runner (and former Nike athlete) to be sponsored by Skechers.

Picking up a rising star like Cheserek might seem like the next logical step for the Los Angeles–based company to bolster its credibility in the performance shoe market. But how much is an endorsement from a professional runner ultimately worth? It’s no secret that the star power of pro runners is pretty low wattage compared to mega-celebrity athletes like LeBron James or Cristiano Ronaldo, whose social media followings number in the tens of millions. (By comparison, at the time of this writing, Cheserek’s Instagram account was still set to private.) Given this discrepancy, one might wonder about a company’s priorities when it chooses to sponsor an athlete who will be largely unknown to the wider public.

The obvious answer is that a pro runner will always be more affordable than a sports icon with global clout; having a runner on your payroll is hardly going to break the bank. According to an article published in November 2015 by the Johan Cruyff Institute, a sports marketing school, getting LeBron James to promote your product on his Twitter account can set you back $140,111…per tweet. Meanwhile, Boris Berian, an Olympic finalist and U.S. and world indoor champion in the 800 meters, was offered $125,000 per year from New Balance. And for a professional runner, $125,000 is damn good. When LetsRun.com polled its readers to estimate Berian’s salary, several professional runners responded with guesses well below what he was actually offered. Kara Goucher guessed $35,000 to $40,000 per year.

“Runners don’t get paid the kind of money that basketball players get paid, so these endorsements, while they’re not free, are really not a huge [financial] burden on the brands, but it gives them credibility and authenticity in the eyes of both the true athlete and the more casual wearer,” says Matt Powell, sports industry analyst with the NPD Group, a global market research firm.

There’s also a tangible sense in which brands are helping to support the sport of running when they choose to sponsor elite athletes. For an NFL or NBA player, a shoe or apparel deal comes in addition to the sizable contract they already have with their franchise. For runners fortunate enough to get sponsored by a sneaker company, it’s often their principal source of income. Hence, for most pro runners, a coveted shoe deal will enable them to be a pro runner in the first place. (Boris Berian was working the day shift at a Colorado McDonald’s right before he burst onto the professional scene.) It doesn’t seem too crazy to assume that it’s in the interest of running shoe companies to foster conditions so the sport can produce stars.

I floated that idea by Nick Symmonds, the recently retired pro runner for Brooks Beasts and the CEO of his caffeinated gum company, RunGum. He has long cultivated a “businessman first, runner second” image. Symmonds told me that paying runners a living wage was a priority for his recent employer.

“They say, ‘If we’re going to invest one dollar, let’s invest enough that we’re actually going to allow them to train full-time,” Symmonds says of Brooks Beasts.

That might sound like he’s being a shill for his longtime sponsor, but Symmonds is also unsentimental about the fact that “supporting the running community” isn’t necessarily tantamount to supporting a company’s bottom line.

“I really think any CEO or any executive at a major company that thinks it’s their duty to prop up running should be fired tomorrow,” Symmonds says.

Would a Brooks executive care to comment? When I reached out to brand manager Steve DeKoker, he said Brooks is confident that supporting the running community is beneficial for the Brooks brand. However, he added that with sports marketing and athlete sponsorship, the ROI is difficult to quantify. (Symmonds, for the record, said the same thing.) At the end of the day, so much of it comes down to an intangible, emotional connection to a brand. But that connection, DeKoker pointed out, is more likely to happen if top athletes are wearing your product.

“You need people to authenticate your brand. By that, I mean you need the best people in the world validating that your product is legitimate and that your products can perform at the highest level. Whether people are aware of that or not, I think it factors into their purchase decision,” DeKoker said.

That authentication factor may be particularly pertinent when it comes to running shoes. Unlike pro basketball or football, where the majority of fans are nonparticipants, those who follow professional running are more likely to be runners themselves. For a running shoe manufacturer, an endorsement from a professional athlete might therefore carry more functional weight. In other words, someone who spends $220 on a pair of LeBron XIV more likely does so because they want to associate with the LeBron James aura—not because they think the shoes will make them a better basketball player. Conversely, someone who spends $250 on a pair of Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% (the new racing flat worn by stars Eliud Kipchoge and Galen Rupp) is perhaps more inclined to believe that the shoes make that coveted PR more attainable. (Not that Rupp doesn’t ooze coolness.)

The counterargument here is that sneaker brands are fashion brands first and foremost; with the exception of niche products like cleats or spikes, the majority of athletic shoe purchases are not intended for athletic use. That said, Powell maintains that when a brand increases the credibility of its performance shoes by having star athletes wear the product, that can boost sales of nonperformance and performance products alike.

Skechers might be a case in point, as the company currently sits in second place behind Adidas in the category of “casual athletic footwear.” The Southern California–based company, it seems, has come a long way since that infamous Kim Kardashian Super Bowl commercial made us reassess the erotic potential of our gym shoes.

So, will the brand’s Edward Cheserek sponsorship ultimately pay off? Possibly. It would certainly help if King Ches became a marathoner and pulled off an upset at Boston. As for more short-term goals, about that Instagram account…


In a world of green juice and chia seed pudding, this age-old dish is the original, and perhaps most powerful, superfood, especially for athletes competing at the highest levels.

“I’ve asked a lot of elite endurance athletes about their breakfast foods, particularly before races, and oatmeal comes up again and again and again,” says Matt Fitzgerald, endurance coach, nutritionist, and author of The Endurance Diet.

You’re most likely to see oatmeal served with a ton of fixin’s, but even a bowl of plain oats holds its own as a nutritional panacea. Oatmeal is a whole grain (unless you buy oat bran—just part of the seed—as opposed to rolled oats) filled with key vitamins and minerals, a low-glycemic carb that provides lasting energy for your workout and helps fuel recovery without causing a sugar crash, and high in fiber to aid your digestive and metabolic systems.

But a bowl of oats is also a big blank canvas, ready to be combined with a truckload of other high-quality, nutritious ingredients that make it even better training food. “That’s one of oatmeal’s great virtues. You can take it in so many directions,” says Fitzgerald.

Even energy bar companies use it. Two-time Ironman champion Jesse Thomas’ Picky Bars just released Picky Oats, a lineup of better-for-the-athlete instant oatmeal chock-full of real ingredients to support performance, rather than added sugars or fake health foods. “I literally believe that besides energy bars, oatmeal is the next most pervasive food for athletes,” says Thomas.

It’s easy to make. All you have to do is boil a ratio of 1/2 cup rolled oats to one cup liquid—either water or a milk of your choice—and top it with whatever you need that day. (For steel-cut oats, change the ratio to 1/4 cup oats to one cup liquid.) Here’s how six athletes do it.


Gwen Jorgensen

Triathlete

Gwen Jorgensen is arguably the most dominant triathlete alive. In 2014 and 2015, she competed in 12 World Triathlon Series races and won every single one, becoming the back-to-back ITU World Triathlon Series champion. As such, Jorgensen trains a lot—often three or four times in one day—which means she needs to eat just as much. “When I first started training for triathlons, I wasn’t eating enough, and it showed in my performance,” she said last year. “I started to work with a nutritionist, and we decided to start front-loading my days. I now eat a larger breakfast and lunch.” Her breakfast staple: the world’s biggest bowl of oatmeal.

“Gwen Jorgensen’s oatmeal recipe is notorious,” says Fitzgerald. Jorgensen says she eats this at least six days a week, including before races, and never gets sick of it.

Big Bowl o’ Oats

  • 4 cups water or milk
  • 2 cups oats
  • 4 eggs (Poach ahead of time in water with a bit of vinegar and salt.)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

Cook and top with generous servings of sliced banana, raisins, yogurt, berries, dried fruit, nuts, and/or peanut butter.


Lucy Bartholomew

Ultrarunner

Lucy Bartholomew is a 21-year-old Melbourne-based ultrarunner who transitioned to an entirely plant-based diet a few years ago. “I first made the switch based purely on thinking it was the healthier choice. I quickly learned that you have to be educated about it, and that you can’t simply cut out a food group and hope for the pyramid to remain stable, especially as a female long-distance runner,” she says. Oatmeal, which Bartholomew enjoys before and after runs, has become one of her staple dishes, in part because it allows for a variety of ingredients and macronutrients—fat, carbs, and protein. “I always carry a bag of quick oats at airports and hotels,” she says. Before a run, she keeps it classic: a little maple syrup and nut butter stirred in right at the end, then topped with banana and cinnamon. But to expedite her recovery, Bartholomew has a more indulgent recipe.

Carrot Cake Recovery Oatmeal

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • One grated carrot
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Cook and top with 1/4 cup each walnuts and chopped dates, plus a sprinkle of cinnamon.


Mark Healey

Big-wave surfer

Surfer Mark Healey depends on oatmeal before big days on the ocean. His go-to recipe perfectly balances nutrients, delivering carbohydrates and immediate energy in the form of bananas and raisins, a bit of protein from chia seeds, and satiating healthy fats in coconut oil and butter.

Fatty Oats

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • Organic butter
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Cook and top with one sliced banana, 1/4 cup raisins, and one tablespoon chia seeds.


Cat Bradley

Ultrarunner

Cat Bradley, this year’s Western States winner, is a self-proclaimed oat queen. She’s been eating oatmeal for breakfast for years and sometimes doubles up in one day, eating it for lunch as well. Bradley’s simple breakfast oats dole out fats (nut butter and Frost’d Turmeric-Coconut Oil Snack Frosting), sugars (frozen blueberries and RAD almond-quinoa granola), and carbohydrates (mainly the oats) to keep her fueled and satiated. Her recovery recipe includes turmeric and eggs, which help reduce inflammation and build muscle, respectively.

Savory Oats

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
  • Salt, pepper, turmeric, and chopped garlic, all to taste
  • Fried egg (Prepared ahead of time.)

Cook oats with salt, pepper, turmeric and garlic, and top with seasonal veggies and a fried egg.


Kirsten Sweetland

Canadian Olympic triathlete

“I always have oatmeal before races, but I rarely eat it as my daily breakfast otherwise,” says Kirsten Sweetland, a 29-year-old former junior world champion triathlete. She’s a fan of the KIS method—Keep It Simple—and wants just enough carbs to “keep me full but not too full and give me enough energy to race.”

KIS Oats

Cook and top with 1/4 cup frozen berries plus one tablespoon each cacao and hemp seeds.


Steph Violett

Ultrarunner

Steph Violett, a nutritionist, The North Face–sponsored ultrarunner, and winner of the 2014 Western States race, prefers her oatmeal after runs. Depending on her mood, Violett adds proteins and fats in the form of eggs, cheese, and pumpkin puree. “Oatmeal is one of my favorite comfort foods, especially when it’s cold outside,” she says.

Pumpkin Oats

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree

Cook and top with cinnamon, one tablespoon maple syrup, and 1/4 cup pecans.


In a world of green juice and chia seed pudding, this age-old dish is the original, and perhaps most powerful, superfood, especially for athletes competing at the highest levels.

“I’ve asked a lot of elite endurance athletes about their breakfast foods, particularly before races, and oatmeal comes up again and again and again,” says Matt Fitzgerald, endurance coach, nutritionist, and author of The Endurance Diet.

You’re most likely to see oatmeal served with a ton of fixin’s, but even a bowl of plain oats holds its own as a nutritional panacea. Oatmeal is a whole grain (unless you buy oat bran—just part of the seed—as opposed to rolled oats) filled with key vitamins and minerals, a low-glycemic carb that provides lasting energy for your workout and helps fuel recovery without causing a sugar crash, and high in fiber to aid your digestive and metabolic systems.

But a bowl of oats is also a big blank canvas, ready to be combined with a truckload of other high-quality, nutritious ingredients that make it even better training food. “That’s one of oatmeal’s great virtues. You can take it in so many directions,” says Fitzgerald.

Even energy bar companies use it. Two-time Ironman champion Jesse Thomas’ Picky Bars just released Picky Oats, a lineup of better-for-the-athlete instant oatmeal chock-full of real ingredients to support performance, rather than added sugars or fake health foods. “I literally believe that besides energy bars, oatmeal is the next most pervasive food for athletes,” says Thomas.

It’s easy to make. All you have to do is boil a ratio of 1/2 cup rolled oats to one cup liquid—either water or a milk of your choice—and top it with whatever you need that day. (For steel-cut oats, change the ratio to 1/4 cup oats to one cup liquid.) Here’s how six athletes do it.


Gwen Jorgensen

Triathlete

Gwen Jorgensen is arguably the most dominant triathlete alive. In 2014 and 2015, she competed in 12 World Triathlon Series races and won every single one, becoming the back-to-back ITU World Triathlon Series champion. As such, Jorgensen trains a lot—often three or four times in one day—which means she needs to eat just as much. “When I first started training for triathlons, I wasn’t eating enough, and it showed in my performance,” she said last year. “I started to work with a nutritionist, and we decided to start front-loading my days. I now eat a larger breakfast and lunch.” Her breakfast staple: the world’s biggest bowl of oatmeal.

“Gwen Jorgensen’s oatmeal recipe is notorious,” says Fitzgerald. Jorgensen says she eats this at least six days a week, including before races, and never gets sick of it.

Big Bowl o’ Oats

  • 4 cups water or milk
  • 2 cups oats
  • 4 eggs (Poach ahead of time in water with a bit of vinegar and salt.)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

Cook and top with generous servings of sliced banana, raisins, yogurt, berries, dried fruit, nuts, and/or peanut butter.


Lucy Bartholomew

Ultrarunner

Lucy Bartholomew is a 21-year-old Melbourne-based ultrarunner who transitioned to an entirely plant-based diet a few years ago. “I first made the switch based purely on thinking it was the healthier choice. I quickly learned that you have to be educated about it, and that you can’t simply cut out a food group and hope for the pyramid to remain stable, especially as a female long-distance runner,” she says. Oatmeal, which Bartholomew enjoys before and after runs, has become one of her staple dishes, in part because it allows for a variety of ingredients and macronutrients—fat, carbs, and protein. “I always carry a bag of quick oats at airports and hotels,” she says. Before a run, she keeps it classic: a little maple syrup and nut butter stirred in right at the end, then topped with banana and cinnamon. But to expedite her recovery, Bartholomew has a more indulgent recipe.

Carrot Cake Recovery Oatmeal

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • One grated carrot
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Cook and top with 1/4 cup each walnuts and chopped dates, plus a sprinkle of cinnamon.


Mark Healey

Big-wave surfer

Surfer Mark Healey depends on oatmeal before big days on the ocean. His go-to recipe perfectly balances nutrients, delivering carbohydrates and immediate energy in the form of bananas and raisins, a bit of protein from chia seeds, and satiating healthy fats in coconut oil and butter.

Fatty Oats

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • Organic butter
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Cook and top with one sliced banana, 1/4 cup raisins, and one tablespoon chia seeds.


Cat Bradley

Ultrarunner

Cat Bradley, this year’s Western States winner, is a self-proclaimed oat queen. She’s been eating oatmeal for breakfast for years and sometimes doubles up in one day, eating it for lunch as well. Bradley’s simple breakfast oats dole out fats (nut butter and Frost’d Turmeric-Coconut Oil Snack Frosting), sugars (frozen blueberries and RAD almond-quinoa granola), and carbohydrates (mainly the oats) to keep her fueled and satiated. Her recovery recipe includes turmeric and eggs, which help reduce inflammation and build muscle, respectively.

Savory Oats

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
  • Salt, pepper, turmeric, and chopped garlic, all to taste
  • Fried egg (Prepared ahead of time.)

Cook oats with salt, pepper, turmeric and garlic, and top with seasonal veggies and a fried egg.


Kirsten Sweetland

Canadian Olympic triathlete

“I always have oatmeal before races, but I rarely eat it as my daily breakfast otherwise,” says Kirsten Sweetland, a 29-year-old former junior world champion triathlete. She’s a fan of the KIS method—Keep It Simple—and wants just enough carbs to “keep me full but not too full and give me enough energy to race.”

KIS Oats

Cook and top with 1/4 cup frozen berries plus one tablespoon each cacao and hemp seeds.


Steph Violett

Ultrarunner

Steph Violett, a nutritionist, The North Face–sponsored ultrarunner, and winner of the 2014 Western States race, prefers her oatmeal after runs. Depending on her mood, Violett adds proteins and fats in the form of eggs, cheese, and pumpkin puree. “Oatmeal is one of my favorite comfort foods, especially when it’s cold outside,” she says.

Pumpkin Oats

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree

Cook and top with cinnamon, one tablespoon maple syrup, and 1/4 cup pecans.


When you think of a runner, chances are you picture someone with tiny shorts, bad feet, and a borderline obsession with how many miles she’s logged since breakfast. That same person in your life has spent countless hours over post-long-run brunch trying to convince you to embark on your own journey with the sufferfest sport, and you’re finally considering it.

Thankfully, there’s a long way to go between lacing up for the first time and counting lost toenails like race medals (you’ll learn to love them). But you can benefit from a few beginner tips to get the most out of your runs, prevent injury, and actually enjoy it right from the start.

Pick Roads or Trails

Factor in what’s more convenient to determine whether you’ll be a pavement pounder or a trail junkie. You’re far more likely to stick with running if it’s easy to fit into your daily life.

In general, road running is great for those who crave a little more speed and prefer predictable paved routes to rugged singletrack. Trail running, on the other hand, usually includes hills and uneven terrain, both of which force you to clock a slower pace.

Bear in mind that you’re just picking a starting point. You don’t have to choose one and stick to it forever. You can switch it up as time goes on or try your hand at, say, trails once you feel proficient at roads. Ultimately, mastering both disciplines will make you a stronger athlete overall as each tests unique abilities, works different muscles, and calls on your body to perform very distinctly.

On the road

Overuse injuries are the curse of the new runner. The sport’s accessibility—the lack of required gear, the fact that it doesn’t require learning a new skill, and the idea that you can simply step outside your door and hit double-digit miles—often prompts beginners to do too much, too fast. Without prepping your body for high-impact hammering on concrete, you may end up with injuries. Easing into running is your best defense from injury, says Tara Taylor, owner of G3 Health and Wellness Solutions and running coach with Thumbtack.

Start each run with a warm-up consisting of dynamic stretches like butt kicks, knee hugs, and walking lunges, and then begin running at a pace at which you can still carry a conversation, says Taylor. Build a foundation at that speed before you start going faster, then use three-week cycles with defined goals to continue improving. “Each cycle will allow your body to adapt to the training stimulus and then move on to increase intensity,” she says. For mileage, increasing by around 10 percent each week is a good marker to keep advancing your distance. A solid training schedule might consist of three to four nonconsecutive days of running each week, plus a strength, yoga, or core workout twice a week.

On the trail

Trail running is definitely a little more complicated than its road counterpart. Planning ahead becomes essential, because it’s easy to get turned around in unmarked woods, where there is often no cell service. “Bring a map, or, better yet, program a GPX file into your phone or watch,” says David Roche, ultrarunner and co-founder of SWAP Running, a coaching service based in Palo Alto, California. Review your planned route before you get to the trail or park so you have general directional awareness.

Unlike road running, where your focus is typically at eye level, you have to watch where you’re going on the trail, says Roche. Etiquette also plays a bigger role out here: Some trails might be narrow, so listen for other runners or hikers calling out their position as they pass, and use verbal cues to warn someone when you’re about to pass as well.

Your focus on the trail can shift from pace and speed to distance and strength, says Roche. The changing terrain requires your body to constantly readjust, engaging a wide range of muscles and building up stability in areas that are hard to reach with traditional strength exercises. There is some evidence that these changing movement patterns prevent overuse injuries, says Roche. Having that extra muscle will allow you take on these obstacles faster and with more ease as you progress.

Pick the Right Footwear

While we recommend you invest in a short list of key items before diving into this sport, technically all you need is the proper pair of sneakers. Running is incredibly high-impact, so a shoe specifically made to lessen the wear and tear on your joints—as opposed to an old trainer—is essential, says Jena Winger, footwear product line manager for Brooks.

It also matters whether you’re running on road or trails. “For trail running shoes, we want extra tread on the sole for durability and grip, and the mesh parts of the shoe should have some reinforcement in key areas that are particularly likely to get muddy so they can easily drain after wet runs,” says Winger. Additional features like a rock plate or rock shield on the bottom of the shoe protect against surface hazards, she says. Road running shoes, on the other hand, are usually more lightweight, with a smaller (or zero) drop and less traction on the soles.

For the best fit, go to a specialty running store and have a staff member examine how you run and make a recommendation, says Winger. Once you start putting your new shoes to use, keep track of mileage and replace them every 300 to 400 miles. Apps like MapMyRun, Garmin Connect, and Strava all have gear-tracking features to assist.

Learn the Lingo

After you go through your first few weeks of base building, avoid boredom and challenge your fitness by switching up the type of runs you do. At least 80 percent of your running should be easy, says Roche. Try different types of training runs for the other 20 percent. But learning the jargon can be a little tricky. Here’s your cheat sheet:

Strides: These are 20-to-30-second accelerations focused on relaxed speed. Throw them into any run to improve your running economy, a measure of how much energy it takes for you to go faster, says Roche.

Hill intervals: Short sprints up an incline, followed with a recovery jog back down. You only need 10 to 20 minutes for this workout to be effective, says Roche. Hill sprints improve your aerobic capacity, and they’re great to squeeze in when you’re short on time.

Tempo runs: Aim to maintain your 10K race pace—a split too fast to maintain a casual conversation as you would on your other runs, but not so fast that you could only manage it for a mile—for anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes.

Fartlek runs: Endurance-based runs that incorporate faster intervals throughout. These don’t have to be super scientific. It can be as simple as telling yourself to run fast to the stop sign, recover, run fast to the next house, recover, and repeat, says Taylor.

Long runs: If you want to race a half or full marathon, the only thing that will truly prepare you are efforts of 90 minutes or more at an easy, conversational pace, says Taylor.

Get Your Mind Right

“When most runners start out, they come from the mindset of other sports or the gym, where you need to feel the burn for it to count,” says Roche. “But in running, it should be mostly magically mundane miles, with some bouts of speed thrown in with moderation.” For some runners, that quiet, uninterrupted time is what they love so much about the sport. For others, the repetition can get boring—if you’re in this camp, work some mental coping strategies into your training.

First, make a sweet playlist. Listening to music keeps your brain engaged and could boost your speed. One study found that the most important thing when choosing music for your running playlist is that you find it motivational, not that the song’s tempo hits a certain speed or beat.

Second, turn your long runs into a game, with each segment posing a new challenge you have to overcome or a goal you’d like to meet. “I break up my run by focusing on different aspects of my running,” says Taylor. “For the first couple miles, I focus on relaxing, then my stride, then my form.”