You’ve probably already read a lot of packing lists and survival guides for cons, where you’ll typically see advice to bring your own snacks or meals. It’s a good call, since convention center food is genuinely awful in every country on Earth.
But many of those lists will recommend energy bars, sport supplements, or electrolyte-replenishing sugary drinks. They’ll tell you that walking a con is an endurance sport and you need to come prepared.
How Hard Are You Really Working?
Here’s the truth: this is a comic convention, not the Olympics. You don’t need to stock up on Gatorade and PowerBars and Clif Shots to get through the day. (And honestly, most of those things taste gross anyway!)
Will you be on your feet a lot? Probably, if you’re spending the entire day walking the exhibit hall, snaking through long lines, or visiting offsite events. If you’re going to camp out in a programming room all day, however, you won’t be putting many miles on your shoes.
Here’s proof: check out my Fitbit stats from San Diego Comic-Con 2015. First up is Saturday, which was a mix of walking and sitting for me. I spent the morning hoofing it to Nerd HQ, about a half mile away from the convention center. Later, I sat through several panels in Ballroom 20 for the afternoon. In the evening, I went out for dinner before coming back to the convention center for the Masquerade party – and stayed for a little dancing at the end. In all, my Fitbit tracked just under six miles.
On the flip side, check out Friday, where I spent the majority of the day sitting in one panel room. I got up early to hit the Petco Interactive Zone before it got too busy. From mid-morning until late afternoon, I hit up the Adult Swim block and the Bob’s Burgers panels in the Indigo Ballroom. Most of the 3.75 miles tracked were from Petco, getting from the hotel to the Indigo Ballroom, and walking to and from dinner & parties in the evening.
I’ve had days at conventions where I walk nearly ten miles, and days where I barely hit two miles – but both of these screens above represent typical con days. You’ll notice neither is anywhere close to 26.2 miles, the distance of a marathon that we so often hyperbolize conventions to be.
What Do the Pros Eat?
Now, to be fair, my other hobby is running – I’ve finished more than a few 10Ks and half marathons. To me, six miles walked over the course of a whole day isn’t much. It might seem more daunting to you, and that’s okay! But you still don’t need to fuel up like you’re running a marathon. And you certainly won’t benefit from gumming down sports drinks and bars all day.
In fact, a lot of endurance athletes don’t like or use those products either. It turns out they’re notoriously hard to digest, mostly due to the lack of water they contain. The back of the wrapper on many of these foods often warns you to consume lots of water after eating. This goes for gummies and gels, too! Plus, lots of them contain added caffeine; that sounds appealing when you’re running on three hours of sleep, but it’s easy to overdo it. And sports drinks like Gatorade are only recommended when you exercise intensely or for more than an hour.
A study done comparing two energy bars found that the bar with a higher carb count helped keep blood sugar levels steadier. The sharp spike in blood sugar caused by the other bar is just like the sugar rush from a candy bar.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional protein bar or sport gummy – but living off them for a four-day convention is going to feel unpleasant.
From Scratch, But Simple
So let’s look at this from an athlete’s perspective: what can you eat that will give you enough energy to muscle through the next ten miles, without leaving you feeling bloated with added sodium or soggy from all that extra water you need to drink?
Runners go for high-carb snacks. Since you’re not running, you can also try for lots of protein, some fiber, and a little bit of fat to keep you feeling satisfied longer.
If you’re really into the idea of small, portable “real” food, you might pick up the cookbook Feed Zone Portables. These packable snacks were designed for ultramarathon runners, but they utilize “real” food with a higher water content. You can try a few sample recipes from them:
Protein bites are also easy to make in advance. Here’s seven different flavors from Fitness Magazine.
Grab & Go Choices
It’s hard to make your own portable snacks when you don’t have a kitchen, something most of us hotel-dwellers lack at cons. (Feed Zone Portables does have instructions for “baking” protein cookies in a hotel room using a hair dryer, if you’re brave enough to try it.) If cooking isn’t an option for you, there are better choices at the grocery store than Clif Shots.
• Medjool dates
• Mini pretzels
• Peanut butter filled pretzels
• “Light” or lower-fat cheese (like Babybel Light or Laughing Cow Light)
• Applesauce (which now comes in convenient squeeze packets – no spoon required!)
• Nuts (almonds & pistachios preferred)
• Nut butters (easy to find in single-serve pouches now)
• Beef jerky
• Roasted chickpeas or edamame
• Fruits & veggies: carrots, celery, snow peas, grape tomatoes, apples, mini sweet peppers (all easy to find in bite-size or pre-cut varieties)
If you still want to go with a pre-packaged bar sometimes, that’s okay! Just try to balance it out with something healthier, and remember to look for a bar or snack that’s low in sugar, low in fat, and has a few grams of fiber. Whatever you choose, drink lots of water – and even more water if it’s an energy bar, gel shot, or gummy snack.
Carry that Weight
And of course, don’t forget that your shoes and your backpack are also important parts of how good you feel after traipsing around a con. Make sure you’re wearing supportive shoes that are broken-in. Carrying a bag or backpack that evenly distributes weight will help relieve stress on your shoulders and back. Packing a small, lightweight folding chair will give you more opportunities to sit down and get off your feet while waiting in lines. You can see our recommendations on all of these, plus other gear, in our Basics: How to Pack piece.