What Food And Drinks Do Participants Want at Energy Stations? 

If you host a medium to long race, an essential part of the planning of the race usually includes fuelling your participants. What should you offer them? What food and drinks will keep them satisfied, fuelled and strong to finish your challenging course? In this article, you’ll find out what participants prefer and also some good pointers on how to keep your aid stations sustainable and easy to manage. 

What Participants Prefer To Get Served At Energy Stations 

In a recent survey with over 600 race participants, we asked the question, “What food and drinks do you prefer on the race course aid stations?”. You can see the result below. Participants could choose several options by clicking checkboxes. A total of 624 participants were asked in the survey. 

What foods participants want at aid stations graph

Most participants want water and sports drinks to stay hydrated – water was rated slightly higher than sports drinks. On the fuelling side, gels was the most popular selection, closely followed by fruit and bars. It seems the sweet treats are preferred over salty, as chewy candy was slightly more popular than savory choices such as sandwiches, chips, pickles and nuts. 

If I think from my athlete perspective, you really appreciate if there are both sweet and salty/savory options to choose from. I loved to see pickles on a bike race I did in Sweden, and I also appreciate when I can choose “real food” items such as nut bars, dried fruit bars or cut-up fruit like bananas. As a racers, you often start with sweet options as these food items usually contain high sugar that can be absorbed quickly by the body. Towards the end of the race however, you easily get tired of that constant sweet taste in your mouth and just long to brush your teeth! You also start to crave more salty foods like chips, pickles or broth (if it is cold). As you get tired, salty craving usually has a scientific basis as your body is losing salts and minerals – ingesting that sodium (and if possible, also potassium and magnesium from a sports drink) will help a lot. 

It is however hard to cater to every racers personal preference, and you have other things to think about as a race organizer. The food you serve at the aid stations should be: 

  • Fast-absorbing – give your racers mostly quick energy
  • Easy to eat and chew – when your breath is up your throat, it gets harder to chew! Try to make your racers life easier by offering foods that are easy to swallow. 
  • Fast to grab and easy to hold – you want the stop to be fast so you don’t build up a queue at the station. Ideally, racers should be able to grab some food and run away with it in their hands or put some in a pocket. 
  • Allergy-friendly: try to avoid common allergens in your foods, such as peanuts for example. You can also opt for gluten free alternatives and just make all the food vegan or vegetarian so everyone can eat it without thinking. 

Handle The Logistics Around Energy Stations 

There are plenty of things to keep in mind when you set up your aid stations, and ways to prepare so that things are easier to manage on race day. 

  • Water supply and transport: you will need lots of water to serve participants and also to mix sports drinks. If you have potable water on tapm try and place your aid stations at a place where you can draw a hose or water faucet too. If not, you will have to transport containers of water to your aid station before the race.
  • Price of food: gels will be much more expensive to serve than fruit or nuts for example. You can save money by reducing food waste – cut up bars in small pieces and place them on trays so racers can grab them easily.
  • Messiness and cleanup: prepare the logistics well and make sure you open any wrappers on food and peel bananas, cut up oranges etc. Place trash cans on both sides of the table for racers to throw trash in. Also place two trash cans 10-20 m away from the station so racers can throw any cups / trash on their way out. 

For more logistics tips around the arena, check this article.

How To Keep Your Energy Stations Sustainable 

More and more, racers appreciate and have a deep understanding for race organizations that think one step further when it comes to the environment and sustainability. When asked how they feel when attending a race that makes efforts towards sustainability, 78% are either inspired or content to see that you care. Here are some ways you can make your aid station sustainable: 

  • No wrappers: remove all plastic wrapping on bars and other items
  • Edible wrappers and cups: there are some interesting options on the market nowadays, such as little edible poaches of water, that you can offer racers. They just run by and pop it in their mouth to get a sip of water.
  • Instead of using millions of paper cups, have your participants bring their own silicone cup to get out for each aid station. You can also offer such a reusable cup in the racer bag (it will be good branding for the future!)  
  • Clear rules about littering: if racers throw trash along the course, they get disqualified!
  • Plan a proper course clean up to both remove your course markings, as well as any trash from racers. A fun idea is to make an event of it and make a Plogg 🙂

Good luck! For more tips on how you can make your race sustainable, check out these articles under Sustainability.