First off, let me say I'm not knocking anyone that uses packaged or processed running calories (gels, perpetuem, maltodextrin, etc.), but I've been looking for alternatives. Here's my take:
I'm actually driven more by the cheapskate in me, as well as not wanting to have to go to GNC, shop online, or go to sporting goods stores to get my running calories. I was about to buy some gels today but recoiled at the $1.29 price tag. For one bite?! So I'm really coming from more of a DIY, home supermarket/health food store approach.
Some thoughts/stuff I like:
-Water: I gave up on sports drinks/mixes long ago during my distance cycling days. I've found water does me just fine, provided I'm getting my salt/potassium elsewhere. Using water makes life simple.
-Kettle chips: (or any other fairly straightforward/simple potato chip) I gobble them crushed. O ne ounce equals 150 calories, 16g carbs, 430mg potassium, 115 mg sodium. Compare with a Salt Stick tablet: 215mg sodium, 63 mg potassium. So far as I'm concerned, these work fine for electrolytes and calories.
I like the sea salt version.
-Pitted dates (or a small homemade date square equaling roughly 5 dates): 5 pitted dates (1.5 oz) is 120 cal., 32g carb. (29 from sugar). These have worked well for me for a quick sugar rush/pick me up. They take the place of a gel.
-Peanut or almond butter and honey or agave nectar sandwich squares: each one is a quarter sandwich, individually wrapped. Don't know the calories, but I'm getting some protein, fats, carbs, and sugars all in one.
One I'd like to try:
Adan's mini mashed potato burritos. I was envying them on this morning's run. About an inch in diameter and two or three inches long, they look nice and easy to carry. Salt, carbs, calories.
As to the convenience of eating while running or cycling: I don't eat while running or working hard on a bike. I'm not out trying to win the WS 100 or TDF. A 2-3 minute walk/food break every few miles of running on a long day is only going to conserve a little energy make me faster in the long haul anyway. It's a given that I'll be mixing in walk breaks; so those become food breaks. Periodically slowing from an 8-10 minute mile to a brief 13-14 minute/mile brisk walk isn't going to drastically effect my times. Most of the food I mention I can eat fine at a slow jog anyhow.
All of this may be a bit bulkier than the packaged and concentrated stuff, but it's all readily available, can be kept on hand, and is fairly cheap. But ultimately, it jives with the idea that you shouldn't have to buy special food to run/do endurance sports. I like that idea. It's worked for me well so far for running and during 200+ mile/12+ hour cycling races in the past.