I was recently invited to join a talk/Q&A session alongside a friend (who is a personal trainer, mountain guide, book author and small business owner) to discuss starting a neighborhood fitness group. It was a lively and fun discussion and there were lots of great nutrition questions for me. A lot of it focused on basic pre-, during and post-workout fueling, as well as hydration, so I thought I’d write a couple posts with some general guidelines. As always, experiment and listen to YOUR body. What works for some people certainly won’t always apply to others. Here goes:
Have a meal 3-4 hours prior with approximately 2 grams of carbohydrate (CHO) per kilogram of body weight (1 kg = 2.2 lbs). For a 150 pound person, this would translate to about 136 grams of carbs. Translated into food, this could be an English muffin, a banana, 8 ounces of orange juice and half cup Greek yogurt. The ideal pre-workout meal should be low in fat and fiber, moderate in protein and high in carbs. (My favorite pre-race breakfast is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread along with low-fat milk or a banana). For super heavy workouts or endurance events, another meal or snack of 0.5 grams CHO/kg body weight about 1 hour before can provide an added boost.
Tip: Trial and error is always important in ensuring best performance, lack of gastrointestinal distress, etc. You definitely want to experiment with which foods make your body feel and perform best prior to a major race or competition. Race day is NOT the time to try something new!
During (Extended) Exercise:
Here, your focus should be on replacing fluid levels and electrolytes and maintaining (or boosting, as needed) your blood glucose levels. For any fairly intense activity 60-90 minutes or longer you will want to consume 30-60 g carbohydrates per hour (approximately 100-300 calories). I find that my runs of 60-100 minutes I get better results if I eat 1 Gu at about the 45 minute mark, and for my half marathons, I try to eat breakfast 2-3 hours before, have a Gu immediately before the race, and another Gu again at about the 1 hour mark for maximum sustained energy. I also find that some days I simply cannot tolerate more than 1 Gu – so I switch things up and bring chews or even those silly Sports Beans. They seem to digest slightly differently than the gels and it’s nice to mix things up a bit. Your mileage will definitely differ! (Note: For exercise less than an hour, you really do not need to worry about taking in additional fuel/calories.)
Sports drinks, gels, bars all work well for providing easy-to-digest carbs for mid-exercise fueling. Your best choice of product or food all really comes down to environmental conditions, your body size and fitness level, and what form you prefer. Fueling during a race or competition can allow you to perform longer before fatigue. It can also help with maintaining a consistent skill level and adequate recovery. Net net, it can help ensure you have a great day on the field or on the race course, and that your body doesn’t take a huge beating in the process. Added protein can also further improve endurance and performance when combined with carbs and water (but do experiment with this during training – some people do not tolerate protein well during intense or endurance exercise, and you really don’t want to have to deal with stomach cramps or frequent trips to the porta-potty!).
For sports drinks, look for something that is has both carbs and electrolytes (unless you’re getting carbs from another source, such as bars or gels, then you can go with something with just electrolytes like Nuun). Good examples of drinks with carbs and electrolytes are Cytomax, Gatorade Performance Series, Accelerade, etc.
*Also, if you have metabolic or blood sugar issues (I will write a longer and rather personal post on this in the not-so-distant future), please talk to you doctor or a registered dietician about the best meal and snack plan for you to support your training and competition nutrition needs. You may need to eat more or less often and/or vary your fuel timing significantly as compared to individuals.
**Also, your fueling will certainly depend on the type of exercise you are planning to do. The tips I’ve outlined here are best suited for aerobic/endurance training. For training or competition with lots of starting and stopping and/or varied pace activity, you may need less carbs and a bit more slow-digesting protein prior to your training or competition. Test things out and see what feels best.
NEXT TIME: Hydration and post-exercise/recovery nutrition tips!