No matter how you get yourself to work every morning, you have two main options when it comes to lunch – Bring it or buy it. If you are a run commuter and choose to bring your lunch, the unique circumstances of your transportation method will require a little additional planning and packing to ensure everything survives the trip without incident. And trust me – you don’t want an “incident” to happen in your pack all over your work clothes. No one wants to smell like soup all day. No one.
A note before we begin: Empty space is your worst enemy. That holds true for both within your food container and around it in your backpack. Empty space allows things to move around, bounce, and rub against other things. The elimination of said space is your goal in packing your lunch (and your pack, as well.)
Now, with that being said, here are the most common, commercially-available food transport options for the run commuter.
Hard Plastic Containers
Best Foods: Sandwiches, solid leftovers
Worst Foods: Cookies, crackers, chips
Pros: Cheap, lightweight, microwaveable
Cons: Destroys food that is packed improperly, microwaving plastic
Notes: When buying either type of this container, make sure to only get those that have tight-fitting lids.
Best Foods: Liquidy leftovers (e.g., chili)
Worst Foods: Cookies, crackers, chips
Pros: Microwaveable, plastic-alternative, long lifespan
Cons: Heavy, destroys food that is packed improperly, can break if dropped
Notes: Pack foods tightly into these containers! The hard surface will destroy foods that can bounce around inside.
Stainless Steel Containers
Best Foods: Leftovers, sandwiches
Worst Foods: Cookies, crackers, chips
Pros: Lightweight, durable, plastic-alternative, shiny
Cons: Medium-weight, destroys food that is packed improperly, not for use in dishwashers
Summary: The best lightweight plastic-alternative.
Reusable, Resealable Cloth Bags
Best Foods: Sandwiches, cookies, crackers, chips, fruit slices
Worst Foods: Soup, leftovers
Pros: Reusable, lightweight, plastic-alternative
Cons: Not airtight/watertight (may leak), hand wash only
Notes: These are a great environmentally-friendly alternative to the plastic bag.
Best Foods: Sandwiches, trail mix, crackers, cookies, chips, pretzels
Worst Foods: Soup, stews, heavy leftovers
Pros: Lightweight, semi-durable, air/space can be removed
Cons: Rubbing inside your pack can create holes in bag, short lifespan
Notes: These are your best defense against travelling food’s worst enemy – empty space. With these bags, you can push the air out and seal them, leaving virtually no space left inside for things to bounce around.
Best Foods: Pizza, sandwiches, breads
Worst Foods: Anything liquidy
Pros: Lightweight, shape-able
Cons: Tears easily, short lifespan, not microwaveable, leaks, not airtight/watertight
Notes: This is the best thing to use for carrying a couple of pieces of cold pizza or a slice or two of grandma’s banana bread.
The Thermos® or “Vacuum-Insulated Food Jar”
Worst Foods: Anything dry and/or crispy
Pros: Keeps food warm or cold for long periods of time, durable, leak-proof, long-lifespan
Cons: More expensive container on our list, not microwaveable
Notes: Ideal for liquidy lunches, however, cannot be used in microwave, so food should either be heated in the morning before putting it into the food jar, or the food jar contents should be emptied into a microwave-safe container and reheated at lunchtime.
Best Foods: Wraps, breads, sandwiches, hot dogs in buns, pizza
Worst Foods: Any foods that have a lot of liquid in them
Pros: Wraps foods tightly and securely (even more so if you add a piece of tape), inexpensive
Cons: Flimsy, easily punctures
Summary: Plastic wrap is great for wrapping oddly-shaped items.
My preferred way to transport food these days is by combining several types of container into one unit.
In this instance, I used the packaging that the crackers came in by rolling it down, and securing it with a clip (a rubber band works, too). The granola bar was left in the wrapper it came in, and the sandwich was simply wrapped in paper towel. All three items were then placed inside a long, flat, reuseable plastic container and placed inside my backpack, with the crackers at the bottom. Remember – your containers will pack more securely lying flat against your back, so place them inside strategically, with the idea that the contents will slide downward.
Additional Food Transport Tips
- Use the food’s packaging to your advantage
- Some fruits, like apples and bananas, transport fine without a container
- Wrap sandwiches in paper towel before placing them inside a container, it keeps your container clean and you have a napkin for lunch
- Soft berries, such as raspberries and blueberries, don’t travel well
- Eliminate empty space around your food and inside your pack
- If your pack has them, utilize the external compression straps to further secure your contents
- Pre-packaged food, like frozen meals or dry noodle packages, can be carried as is
We don’t often talk about food and nutrition, but its high time we do. Running to work depletes the body of many nutrients early in the morning before the workday even begins, so we need to make sure that we, as athletes, replenish our bodies with healthy, nutritious meals and snacks post-morning run, so that we can keep our energy levels up throughout the day in anticipation of the next run. For the most part, runners know this already. I have a pretty simple feasting schedule that I stick with:
Pre-Morning Run Commute
– 1 cup coffee
– 1 glass water
– 1 breakfast item (bagel, english muffin, breakfast sandwich)
At the Office
– 1 Clif bar, or 8 oz. protein drink
Now we’re up to an important meal (and my favorite) – lunch.
Some run commuters pack their lunch and some buy lunch from at or near their office, eliminating the need to carry one with them in the morning. I don’t have a lot of options around my office and I hate paying for groceries every week and then buying meals, too. So, I pack and run with my lunch every day.
For those who have tried this before, you’ll know that there are many ways you can fuck it up. Want to smell like Thai curry all day? Awesome! Containers of leftovers sometimes leak onto your clothes. Ever eaten crackers with a spoon? What were once whole, crunchy crackers can arrive at work as despicable bags of dust. Oh, you wanted some jelly for lunch? Great! Pack some strawberries loosely in a plastic container and let them bounce around in your pack a few thousand times. Mistakes happen, but we learn from them.
So, for this first run commuting foodie post, we’re going to give you a recipe for a healthy lunch entree, and show you the simple, and most run-commuter-friendly way to pack it.
When you pull these out at work, they should essentially look the same as they did when they went in. As a bonus, there is no meat or dairy in these, so if you don’t have a refrigerator, they should be fine at room temperature for several hours.
Beyond today’s lunch
If you like to think ahead, you can also cut up a bunch of vegetables and store them together in a container for future wraps. They stay fresh for about three days, and make early morning lunch-making sessions quick and easy!
Stay tuned for more food-related, run commuting posts!
Do you mind the sound of keys jingling? No? I bet you would after you heard them make that noise over 5,000 times in 45 minutes. That’s how many times the loose keys in your backpack could make noise on a 45-minute run to work. How’s that for some early morning ear candy?
Well, fellow run commuters, we’re going to show you how to silence your commute. No more key jingle. No more water sloshing. No more tink-tink-tink sounds from your zippers – just a nice, quiet pack for your run to work. Let’s tackle them in the order of annoyance:
Top Noise Makers
- Belt Buckles
- Hydration Bladder/Liquid
- Loose Items/Food
I have a lot of locks to open, so I have a lot of keys on my key ring. And, key ring cards. And, doodads. All of those together make for a baseball-sized bundle of noise. I’ve found that there are two ways to effectively silence keys.
I had one of these lying around unused, so I tried it out one day and found it worked very well. As a bonus, it has a small zippered pouch that my metal watch fits into nicely. You can easily find one that will fit your keys, no matter what size they may be. Simply go to a camera case display at any store and try it out with your own keys to find the best fit.
For the especially frugal or minimalist run commuter, you can use a rubber band. The one pictured here was holding some store-bought vegetables together (either asparagus or broccoli). It’s wide, short and durable, making it an ideal combination to bind your keys together.
There is one particular type of buckle that will annoy the crap out of you when you’re running – the web belt buckle. There is a little metal bar inside the metal buckle that will bounce around clanging and jingling, almost like the sound coins in a cup make. For this solution, we turn to our old friend rubber band.
Once again, it does the trick. Just be certain to pin the metal bar down under the rubber band or it won’t work. You can also secure the entire belt by wrapping part of the rubber band around the coiled belt and buckle.
These pics should be self-explanatory. There are probably a few more techniques I missed, but these are the main ones (and pretty simple and low-cost.)
Add a Zipper Pull
Use Some String/Cord
Wrap Them With Tape
4. Hydration Bladders
This one is pretty simple. Turn the bladder upside down and suck out all of the air.
5. Loose Food/Items
This one is sort of simple, too. The key is to eliminate the empty space.
The first thing you can do is to ensure that the items in your pack are arranged properly. One of our favorite companies, Osprey, created a handy graphic that shows you how to pack items based on weight.
When run commuting, however, we don’t always run with a full load. So no matter how well you arrange things inside, there may still be plenty of empty space for things to bounce around. That’s why we recommend a pack with compression straps:
Compression straps allow you to change the size of your pack by squeezing the outside layer of material closer to your back, which in turn pulls items inside together tightly. No more bounce!
Hopefully you found some of these tips useful. If you have any other suggestions, let us know!
I’ve been following Scott Jurek’s progress on the ultra racing scene for the past few years with great interest. I first learned of him – as did many, many others – while reading Chris McDougal’s bestselling book, Born to Run.
Jurek took the ultramarathon scene by storm, winning race after race, breaking records, and continuing to push himself harder and faster with each new year. Eat & Run fills in the backstory of this legendary runner, his transition to veganism and ultramarathons, his early years at home in rural Minnesota, and his recent successes in racing. More importantly, and of great relevance to us here, Jurek used to run to work – 6 miles each way – to his job in Seattle!
I had a similar upbringing as Scott. We’re about the same age, we grew up in the Midwest hunting and fishing, tried track in high school without much success, and then began running long and far while making the transition to veganism (not to mention, we’re both Polacks). But at one point in our lives, we diverged. He ran mountains, killed the ultra scene, and made healthy, competitive running his profession. I ran short, local races, had (and continue to have) great running adventures, and I’m more than happy just to finish a 50K.
It’s hard not to over-promote yourself as a professional runner. Your whole career revolves around running, winning, looking good, and marketing yourself. Do you know who Dean Karnazes is? If you even follow running just a little bit, you probably do. He is the king of self-promotion. But that’s his job, and he does it well.
Similarly, Jurek spends most of the book talking about himself – not only filling in the history of his running career, but also about how awesome he is. Don’t get me wrong – I think Jurek is an amazing ultra runner and his race times and records are phenomenal. But, the book reads more like a curriculum vitae with recipes, than a story about the connection between food and running.
I was expecting to hear more about being vegan and why people choose to become one – not just “I ate vegan and felt better,” and “Is being vegan going to hurt my running?” The book is called Eat & Run after all. Sure he talks a bit here and there about Hippie Dan and others who gradually changed his mind about eating meat, but I was hoping to see something beyond,
“What we eat is a matter of life and death. Food is who we are.”
Scott Jurek, Eat & Run, pg. 57
That line in particular, could have been expanded into an ongoing lesson, interspersed throughout the book, about the animals themselves and the short, torturous lives they live before a piece of them finds their way to our plates.
Instead, Jurek says that the “…healthier he
Aside from that, there is the big unanswered question: What the hell really happened between Jurek and Dusty? Friends don’t text you out of the blue after a couple of years, saying, “You fucking loser” (pg. 204). They were close. And then – suddenly – they weren’t.
There’s more to that story, dammit. Hopefully, Dusty will write a book about it someday. If so, you’ll hear all about it here.
Here I mean “graphic” to mean both a visual representation of what our nation is ingesting, and the more colloquial sense of looking upon something that churns both one’s soul and stomach.
I saw this image from Visual Economics, representing Americans’ average ages, heights and weights, and the things we eat. The graphic’s title, too, seems to have two meanings: the informational sense of what we are eating, and the critical questioning.