Rice balls: The perfect fuel for ultra runners?

Basmati rice

Rice balls are a versatile and easily digestible food that makes them a great alternative to gels and sports drinks for ultra runners, athletes, and people who are prone to nausea after several hours of running.

Unlike gels and sports drinks, rice balls are not as sweet and can easily be customised, making them a more palatable option. Additionally, rice balls are a good source of carbohydrates and electrolytes.

The benefits of eating rice balls

  • Easy to digest: Rice is a complex carbohydrate, which means that it takes longer to digest than simple carbohydrates found in gels and sports drinks. This makes rice balls a better choice for ultra runners who need sustained energy over a long period of time.
  • Good source of electrolytes: Electrolytes are important for preventing dehydration and muscle cramps. Rice balls are a good source of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
  • Good source of fibre: Fibre can help to regulate digestion and prevent constipation. Rice balls are a good source of fibre, which can help to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
  • Customiseable: Rice balls can be customised to your liking. You can add different fillings to make them more enjoyable and nutritious.

How to make rice balls

The following recipes were developed by renowned coach and ultra runner Jason Koop. Both of these should make approximately 12 rice balls.

Sweet & salty rice balls (vegetarian)


  • 270 g uncooked basmati rice
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1.5 Tbsp soy sauce to taste


  1. Cook the rice.
  2. Scramble and cook the eggs.
  3. Combine rice, eggs, honey, and soy sauce in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Scoop small portions into sandwich bags and tie the ends.

Bacon & egg rice balls


  • 270 g uncooked basmati rice
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 strips bacon
  • 55 g grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt to taste


  1. Cook the rice.
  2. Scramble and cook the eggs.
  3. Cook the bacon. Drain excess fat and chop.
  4. Combine rice, eggs, bacon, cheese, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  5. Scoop small portions into sandwich bags and tie the ends.

Nutrition per serving (approx)

Bacon & egg13318 g4 g5 g~160 mg
Sweet & salty11520 g2 g3 g~125 mg

As an ultra runner myself, I can attest to the benefits of eating rice balls during long runs. They are easy to eat, provide sustained energy, and are a good source of electrolytes.

I would, therefore, encourage anyone who is training for an ultra to try them on their training runs. You may be surprised at how well they work for you.

Picture of Dan Cross

5 responses to “Rice balls: The perfect fuel for ultra runners?”

  1. Tina avatar

    Hi Dan, these look awesome and like they may be a great solution for my constant stomach issues on ultras!

    One question: how does it work eating them on the run? Do you just throw the contents of the bag back into your mouth? I can’t imagine eating this with a spork, but also wonder how often you end up with honey and soy on your hands?

    1. Dan Cross avatar
      Dan Cross

      I’ve found the easiest way to eat them is to tear the individual bags with my teeth, then squeeze the contents into my mouth like a gel. It’s probably best to do this while power hiking or walking, and not when you’re going flat out on a technical descent!

      You could also try adding more water to the rice if you want to make them clumpier or stickier.

  2. Tina van Heerden avatar

    Ahhh! Get it out a small hole, not the big one it went in; that makes a lot more sense!

    Will give it a go, although I don’t eat eggs or honey, so will do a bit of experimentation with scrambled tofu and date/maple syrup. The verdict is also still out if fermented foods cause my stomach upset, so might miss some of the umami and go with salt instead of soy sauce.

    Thanks for making the awesome video and sharing!

  3. Jennifer avatar

    I am so excited about this! Thanks for putting this out there. My question: At what point during your long run do you eat real food like this to prevent the shakes later on? Two weeks ago I ran 42.45km in the mountains a bit of elevation and a lot of humidity and for the first 31km did great with just tailwind and one Hanuta (German chocolate/waffle thing), where I started to get shakey and a bit faint. The tailwind had been making me feel like a rockstar, and then it was just– ok. Is that the point where you start taking in whole food or should I have done this at the 20k mark?
    Also, for fun, do you ever eat these with seaweed/nori?

    1. Dan Cross avatar

      Hi Jennifer.

      I use a combination of Tailwind and gels for the first 4-5 hours of a long run or race, and I try to aim for 60-70g of carbs per hour. For reference, two scoops of Tailwind is about 50g carbs. How strong are you mixing your Tailwind?

      I find that my stomach can only tolerate sugary stuff for so long, which is when I switch to more savoury options (like rice balls) to avoid any upsets. I still take the odd gel or two, along with one-scoop Tailwind per hour. It’s best experimenting with nutrition on long runs to see what does and doesn’t work for you.

      It’s hard to say what may have caused you to be lightheaded, but the usual suspects are overexertion and dehydration, leading to low blood pressure. It could also be the result of low blood sugar through not fuelling properly. If this was just a one-off, it’s probably not a major cause for concern, but it’s worth keeping an eye on it.

      I usually stick with just basic rice balls, but seaweed sounds like a good addition. I have tried ginger in the past to give it a bit of flavour, and that worked quite well.

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