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Uh, Are Potatoes The New Energy Bars? Why A Sports Dietitian Loves This Trend

Isadora Baum
May 30, 2023
Isadora Baum
By Isadora Baum
mbg Contributor
Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, certified health coach and published author. She has written three books: 5-Minute Energy, Self-Love Games & Activities and Clean Eating for Beginners.
Image by Marco Govel / Stocksy
May 30, 2023
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There's no denying potatoes are healthy and nutritious. Packed with potassium and teeming with other macro- and micronutrients, including protein and fiber, they make a great addition to your dinner or lunch plate. Head to TikTok and you'll spot another way to utilize the ingredient: as a fuel for longer workouts.

It turns out that packing a tater for the gym isn't really new—it's something distance runners and bikers have been doing for a quite while. Here's why potatoes are a great fueling option for training, from a sports dietitian.

Reasons to pack a potato for a workout

"As a performance dietitian, I love to see potatoes finally having a moment versus being vilified as an 'unhealthy white carb,'" says Kelly Jones M.S., R.D., CSSD, a board-certified sports dietitian who works with both everyday athletes and top-tier professionals.

"I have worked with cyclists who take mashed potato packets with them on rides as a fuel source and regularly recommend them as a staple dinner starch, too," Jones explains. 

It turns out that a medium potato offers the same amount of carbohydrates per serving as popular sports-fueling products like energy or granola bars but with more of the nutritious qualities of whole foods and fewer funky additives.

"Taking in carbohydrates during moderate to intense activities lasting 90 minutes or more is essential to maintain intensity and extend the duration of training sessions, and it's important for those with high activity levels to eat adequate carbohydrates throughout the day," Jones says, adding that carbs are the most preferred and efficient source of energy for your muscles and brain, meaning they really shouldn't be avoided, especially if you lead an active lifestyle

"Believe it or not, carbs don't just get converted to fat and are actually able to be stored in the form of glycogen in our muscles as a quick source of fuel," Jones says. Moral of the story: If you don't eat enough calories or carbs, it'll be harder to optimize your workouts.

"Potatoes have more potassium than a banana, are an excellent source of vitamin C, and offer some iron, which is important for those engaging in high-intensity and long-duration activity," Jones notes. 

Plus, the starchy carb has a small amount of fiber and protein, which can help slow digestion and absorption a bit. "This is helpful for those who have sensitive digestive tracts," Jones adds. So, if you react poorly to packaged products like energy gels or bars, packing a potato for your next tough workout or strenuous hike might just be the move.

How to fuel with potatoes

No, this doesn't mean you need to munch on a baked potato like it's an apple while you're running. The best way to prepare a potato is to mash it first at home.

"If you want to carry around mashed potato pouches on your long bike rides like some of my clients, simply microwave a medium potato to save time and then either mash with some olive oil and ⅛ - ¼ teaspoon of salt, or add a tablespoon of olive oil and salt to a small food processor," Jones suggests. Once cooled, put the mash in a reusable squeeze pouch and store it in your gym bag, cycling kit, or running belt.

If you don't have time to prepare and prefer store-bought, Jones suggests stocking up on instant potatoes from reputable brands such as Bob's Red Mill and Whole Foods.

"You can also go for it with a full salted baked (or just microwaved) potato stored in some foil if you have room for it on the go, but most people prefer something they don't need to chew while being active," Jones says.

And pro tip: There are benefits to switching up your white potato for a colored counterpart every now and again. Sweet potatoes, for example, are known to boost antioxidants and beta-carotene. Purple potatoes also tend to be higher in antioxidants and better for blood sugar control than white potatoes, due to their lower glycemic index value. However, if you're a fan of white potatoes, you don't necessarily need to swap them out.

Whatever kind of potato or preparation you opt for, be sure to drink at least 8 ounces of water per serving to keep electrolyte ratio and hydration in check, Jones notes. 

Some other ways to enhance your performance on long workouts include keeping your breathing in check, mixing up the type of training you do, and taking a supplement that provides energy to the brain and body. Here are a few that our supplements editor recommends for physically active individuals.

The takeaway

In this case, TikTok actually is onto something. Mashed or whole, white or orange, potatoes are a great fueling option on training days, so make sure to keep some on hand for your next long workout.

Isadora Baum author page.
Isadora Baum

Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, certified health coach and published author. She has written three books: 5-Minute Energy, Self-Love Games & Activities and Clean Eating for Beginners.

Her writing has appeared in print and on websites for Allrecipes, Livestrong, Well Good, Women's Health, Men's Health, PopSugar, Food&Wine, Eat This, Not That!, Allure, EatingWell, Self, Shape and more. Isadora graduated from Northwestern University and currently lives in Chicago.