Dates are a nutrient-packed powerhouse perfect for fueling workouts and adding valuable nutrients to your day. The world of sports drinks, bars, gels, GUs and chews is vast with hundreds of options for active people to choose from. The industry is constantly competing to create special formulas and products which are appealing to consumers and effective for fueling exercise.

While some products are moving toward a ‘real food’ approach with minimally processed ingredients, it can be easy to forget certain whole foods, like bananas, can provide the same benefits as what some people call ‘science food’.

Dates are packed with an ideal mix of types of carbohydrates to fuel workouts and boost energy. Most types of exercise requires glucose from the bloodstream and glycogen in the muscles and liver (where carbohydrates are stored) for fuel. This fuel can come from pre-workout meals, pre-workout snacks or food and drink consumed during workouts.

Dates have a mix of glucose, fructose and sucrose (29.4, 30.4 and 11.6g/100g of dried dates, respectively) to boost energy for workouts. Since athletes should eat and/or drink carbohydrates during workouts longer than 1.5 hours, carrying some dates may be a good idea. Research shows ingesting a variety of sugars is the most optimal fuel for moderate-to-intense exercise. Elite athletes in running and cycling have reported using dates as part of their fueling strategy for training and races.

Not only are dates great for fueling workouts, they are also packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber to benefit overall health. Just 100g of dates provides 10 different minerals with more than 15% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of selenium, copper, potassium and magnesium. They are also a moderate source of B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. In addition to these vitamins and minerals, dates are also a good source of antioxidants, mainly carotenoids and phenolics. Antioxidants may help to protect cells against damage and play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. In terms of fiber, 100g of dates also provides 7 grams of fiber, the majority of which is insoluble. Insoluble fiber promotes good gut health and moves things along in the GI tract.

One dried medjool date contains 80 calories and 20g of carbohydrates, and it’s the perfect size to fit in a pocket to provide quick fuel before or during a workout. Much of the sports food industry bases its serving sizes off of 20–30 grams of carbohydrate, the ideal amount of carbohydrates to fuel one hour of moderate exercise. The carbohydrates present in 1 gel or serving of blocks or chews is almost identical to 1 dried medjool date.

Pair a few dates with a protein-rich food like hard cheese (Manchego, Jarlsberg or Swiss), beef jerky or hard-boiled egg to make a satisfying and balanced afternoon snack. Dried dates don’t melt or get sadly smooshed in your backpack or purse. Just pop them in a plastic baggy and take them anywhere. A few dates can fit into a jersey pocket, running shorts pocket, leggings pocket, small purse or small gym bag — and you have fuel ready when you need it.

Make dates your go-to training fuel and easy pre-workout snack to provide a valuable boost of energy to enhance performance.