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Do you remember, as a kid, being called inside after an afternoon of running around outside for a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich (PB&J, for those in the know) and a cold glass of milk? Regardless of how you took it – crusts cut off, white bread, wheat bread, more peanut butter than jelly – it tasted like pure, unadulterated love.
Somewhere along the way, we ditched our beloved PB&Js for a more diverse lunch menu filled with chickpea salads, tuna paninis, and spinach smoothies. And while the introduction to nutrient-dense foods was essential for growing into adulthood, it’s time we look back and recognize that PB&Js are a totally underrated running snack.
The Nutritional Breakdown of a PB&J
Let’s address the elephant in the room (who, coincidentally, would probably love PB&Js). This beloved sammy can get a bad wrap as housing unhealthy and highly-processed ingredients, but, there are so many quality PB&J materials nowadays that you can feel good about whipping one up before or after a long training run.
Surprising no one, there are three ingredients in a PB&J. The bread, the peanut butter, and the jelly. Cool. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about good options.
For years, shoddy “science” and a cultural gluten panic has maligned bread as “bad carbs”. However, studies show that whole wheat bread can not only be part of a healthful diet, but can reduce the risk of heart disease in adults. This is because whole grains contain essential vitamins like fiber, vitamin B, zinc, iron, and more. Plus, we as runners know how important carbs are. A 2022 study followed dietary patterns of runners and found that those who ate whole grains over regular grains (white bread, white pasta, cereal) saw improvements in their runs.
It’s still a good idea to have a fair bit of skepticism when looking at breads in the grocery store aisle. Just because the packaging says, “Whole grains”, doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for your PB&J. Look for the 100% Stamp from the Whole Grains Council, which is a trusted third-party verifier.
You’ll also want to choose a bread that’s low in sugar (stick to six grams or less) and high in fiber.
A few examples of breads that meet these requirements are:
Did you know there’s a difference between jelly and jam? Jelly is made with strained fruit or fruit juice, whereas jam is made of mashed fruit. While the nutritional value of both are similar, their textures may dictate your preference. Jam often has fruit chunks in it, while jelly is smooth.
Jelly contains simple carbs and sugars, things runners love because of the ease of digestibility and quick hit of energy. Unfortunately, jelly can be high in added sugar and fructose corn syrup, so it’s best to keep an eye on the nutrition label when selecting this key part of the sandwich. That being said, sugar-free jelly is often made with artificial sugar replacements, which can cause digestive stress for some people.
You want to find a jelly made with natural sweeteners and little to no additives.
An equally sticky and delicious ingredient to the PB&J is one many people steer clear from when trying to be health-conscious. But never fear! Peanut butter can be a great source of protein and healthy fats, both essential for a recovery from runs.
Some peanut butter brands often add in unnecessary additives and sweeteners to their products. Ideally, your choice should contain one ingredient: peanuts. Makes it easy, right? Look for natural peanut butters and don’t be alarmed by the oils sitting on top of a fresh jar. Simply mix before scooping.
Organic Creamy Peanut Butter, $4.99
Elevating Your PB&J
As much as we stick to the humble, original PB&J combination, there are plenty of ways you, as a runner, can elevate your sandwich. For post runs, you can add banana slices for an extra dose of potassium and sprinkle flax seeds on top for healthy fats and extra fiber. If you’re more focused on quick, simple carbs before a run, replace bread with whole grain bagels instead.
For the more daring runners, try adding a splash of sriracha on top of the jelly and peanut butter. The heat cuts nicely with the sweet jelly and, when combined with peanut butter, tastes like Thai-inspired food. Yum.
Homemade Chia Blueberry Jam
1 cup frozen blueberries
½ Tbsp. chia seeds
1-2 Tbsp. water
To a small saucepan on medium-low, add blueberries, chia seeds and water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture takes on jam-like texture, about 10 minutes.