Plastic free July – is zero waste training and racing possible?

Plastic free July – is zero waste training and racing possible?


As many of you may know, I have been living mostly zero waste in the last half year (as for why, please read it here), and I’m planning to make a lot of posts regarding this topic, because this is an important issue for me. But as an athlete, I haven’t put enough emphasis on this as of yet, and I would like to change that. Sure as hell I was having some inner conflicts already when reaching for the plastic cups during a run, or taking an energy gel packet at the biking stage, and filling my back pocket with it. So in time for plastic free July (which is a yearly event by the way) I thought I would try to reduce my waste during my trainings and races as well.  🙂

In order to do that, first I need to check what unnecessary or not recyclable waste are produced in these events, and how to substitute those. Let’s see what we get at a refreshment station, and what we put in our package at the transition area.

Transition package: 

As these were already proven during long biking trainings, I always use the following:

  • 1-2 banana
  • a handful of brazil nuts
  • home made oat pancake, salty
  • two bike bottles, one with water, one with iso
  • salt tablets for longer races (I cannot avoid these, but I bought a 50 piece packet which will last me for years, if only used on races)

Iso drinking powders or sport drinks:

This is an easy one, since I haven’t really gone into the habit of drinking sport drinks, they essentially have the same effect as normal iso, and the powder can be made at home. Simply put water and fruit juice into a bottle with a 4:1 ratio, a pinch of salt, and you’re done. If you want a sweeter taste, I also drink plain diluted syrup, just don’t forget to add a bit of salt every time, because you are going to sweat a lot during a race and this is the easiest way to replenish. On triathlon events this area is more or less waste free, because you have to throw away your bottle and get a new one, and they fill it up and give it to someone else, so I will use this method. Let’s not get into secondary waste, because the organizers will surely use store bought iso powder, but for example the 75 km section on ironman would be a logistic nightmare, so I will practice common sense. And anyway, most of the iso is used when you train, remember the journey is the reward 🙂

Energy bar, muesli bar: 

There are a ton of recipes for home made bars, I just want one which is easy to chew and digest, but contains slow absorbing carbohydrates as well. And it wouldn’t be bad to have some protein in it during a longer biking session, especially at the beginning, so I will be making a protein oat bar. The only packaging it needs is for the whey protein, which I bought in the winter in the biggest container to reduce my waste (general rule of thumb is to buy the biggest if you have a longer shelf life in any case, since that is the best price as well), and only use it when really necessary, so still have half of it. Just made coconut milk and peanut butter, so I think I will make a batch this week 🙂 I will be also making a more fruity, lower protein and fat content bar, and if that will do its job, I can avoid making gels, which is a bit more hassle (but doable of course). Here are a few recipes you can try 🙂


During the special distance it was quite good to alternate between the bar and the gel, so I wanted to look into making gel at home. Because bars are easier to make and handle, I most probably stick with those only, but I may as well share what I’ve found, if someone wants to try it out. I sure will store the info for later use 🙂 So, store bought energy gels are not made of simply sugar, salt and vitamins. If you look at the ingredients list you will soon find out that most contain maltodextrin. You can read more about it here, if you’re interested, and here is a nice recipe for it. If I would want to make it, only this needs to be bought in packaging, but a few kilo pack can last for a long time, and you instantly reduced your waste by a lot, if you compare it with individual packets.

So, we made energy gel at home, but how can we use it during the biking or running? Luckily the recipe also suggest a nice solution, a food grade silicon container called GoToob.  You have to check if it’s available in your country, I could find a store who sells it in Hungary, and I think I’ll buy a set, cause it will come handy during my world tour as well. Be careful, it’s not suitable for oil! At a first glance it seems quite expensive, but the manufacturer gives a lifetime guarantee, and if you think about the price for only one gel pack, you can quickly calculate how fast it will worth the money. Reducing your waste is just a plus 🙂

Plastic cups during running:

The only option for this is to carry a handheld bottle flask, sure enough there are a lot of available choices for that, or you can even opt for a 500 ml bike bottle. During the 5 km circles of the ironman I will be doing in July one flask will be more than enough, so I will get two, one for me, and one for my aid (thanks mom! 🙂 ),  and she can refill it in every lap. Naturally I won’t use plastic cups to pour water on me either, but there is no need for that, they put out big buckets filled with water where I can refresh myself. I know that the organizers will bring so much plastic cup that it can serve a whole army and it doesn’t matter if I don’t use a single one, but my solution is quite easily doable and if I can lead by example and only a handful of people will think about it, I call it progress.

So I think I tackled every problem and are ready for a zero waste racing experience. 🙂 If you also think this is worth paying attention to, please share it, so maybe others will be inspired and try experimenting with one of the solutions.