Fueling Fundamentals Part 2: Fuel During the Workout

What does it mean to be adequately fueled?

As you may have heard, an athlete who is healthy and performs well is one who is adequately fueled. Adequate fueling means eating an appropriate amount of calories made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to fuel your activities of daily living as well as the vigorous physical activity your body may perform Each individual can perform different amounts of physical activity and has different nutrition needs at baseline. This means that being adequately fueled can have a unique meaning to each individual.

Why is it important to be adequately fueled?

Being adequately fueled can help your performance and training by bolstering energy, decreasing risk of injuries, maintaining lean muscle mass and enhancing your wellbeing. Under fueled athletes can experience what has been referred to as “hitting a wall” during a session and may feel that they lack the energy to carry on their sport and can perform poorly. Being inadequately fueled can lead to poor training benefit, lowering of your metabolic rate, difficulties maintaining your lean muscle mass, lowering of your intake of key nutrients, reducing your performance, and increasing your risk for injuries. Fueling your body appropriately is crucial!

Fueling During Exercise

During physical activity that lasts longer than 60 minutes action should be taken to refuel:  water is necessary to restore fluid losses. Carbohydrate is necessary to maintain blood sugar levels. Intake of hours to digest (small). About 1.5 g of carbohydrate per pound body weight is recommended. When eating snacks allow up to 1 hour to digest before physical activity. However, if there is less than 1 hour before exercise, reduce the amount of carbohydrate consumed.

Eating right before exercising can cause blood to divert to your stomach for digestion instead of your muscles reducing your abilities and tolerance. Those with sensitive stomachs should try easily digested and tolerated foods and liquids low in fat and fiber. Foods high in fiber and fat can be retained in the stomach longer and can cause gastric distress, especially if eaten right before a workout. Drink 4 oz for every 40 pounds of weight around 4 hours before exercise. Drink 7-10 oz immediately before exercise.

Action should be taken to refuel during physical activity that lasts longer than 60 minutes, especially if carbohydrate loading did not occur: Water is necessary to restore fluid losses. Carbohydrate is necessary to maintain blood sugar levels. During exercise, glycogen stores are utilized and carbohydrate is depleted leaving your body to search for added sources of fuel. By consuming about 30 to 60 g (120-240 calories) of carbohydrate per hour (during extended physical activity, you can increase your endurance, stamina, and maintain your concentration.

Different options for solid carbohydrates include:

  • performance energy bars
  • peanut butter crackers
  • trail mix
  • fruits like raisins and bananas

Liquid options include juices, sports drinks, and gels.

It is also possible to mix up foods and fluids in order to get the benefit of a variety of carbohydrate types. The addition of protein is a plus because it can reduce post exercise muscle soreness and damage. Be wary of eating too much food, as this can slow down fluid availability for sweat loss with digestion. This is especially important in hot weather, when dehydration risks are possible. Limit high fiber foods to prevent gastric distress. Drink 7-10 oz fluid every 15 minutes when exercising consistently and in hot/humid environments.

By Keri Yee, RD, LD

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