Nutrition: it can be a limiting factor that prevents you from being able to continue a race or training session. You might be the fittest person to ever walk the planet, but without proper fuel, your performance will suffer. All it takes is one experience of "bonking" (the unsettling feeling of exhaustion due to lack of fuel) to realize that simple fact.
Because each person is unique, nutrition requirements during exercise vary widely. For example, if you are hypoglycemic—that is, if you have low blood sugar—you may need to eat more often during the day and to consume foods with natural sugars. If you are hyperglycemic or you have diabetes, the opposite might be true.
If you are an endurance athlete, it's wise to consult your doctor or nutritionist for ideas on how to fuel up during long-distance activities. However, the following tips are ones I have used in my training as a long-distance, multi-sport athlete over the last decade; and they might help you as well. FYI, I am neither hypoglycemic nor hyperglycemic, but I have a voracious appetite.
1. Fuel During Exercise
This requires trial and error, but over time, you should discover what works best for you. My go-to foods have been energy bars high in carbohydrates and low in protein, such as Clif bars, Luna bars and Larabars.
Also, consider how hot it is where you train and how much you sweat. You lose electrolytes through sweat, so you need to make sure you replenish—not just glucose (sugars from carbs) but also electrolytes such as sodium. Gatorade is an obvious choice, but other options are available that also do double duty. I like e-Gel and ETS products (no, I'm not sponsored by them). They replenish both glucose and electrolytes during long rides or runs, especially in hot and humid conditions. Plus, your digestive system might handle a gel better than a solid bar.
But not all athletes are fans of gels or bars. For a different option, read another athlete's suggestion for fueling during exercise.
Always be hydrating—and not with diet soda pop. Water is fine—if you're taking in electrolytes from another source. One good option: tablets you can add to your water for a boost of electrolytes and delicious taste. Nuun is one example of a little tablet you can drop in your water for extra fizz—and electrolytes.
To stay hydrated, make sure you drink at least 16 to 20 ounces of water per hour of exercise—but that's if you're working out at a moderate rate. If you're in heavy sun and your exercise is intense, you'll need more.
3. Eat Before Exercise
Proper nutrition takes thought and planning, which is something many athletes fail to do. For pre-exercise nutrition, I recommend portable foods with essential nutrients. Easy options include oatmeal, nuts, rice cakes and nutrition bars with low fat-to-calorie ratios, high protein and low sugars (less than 20g if possible). Throw in a serving of organic peanut butter, bananas, blueberries or an apple, and your pre-exercise nutrition is done.
4. Eat After Exercise
Refueling your body after training is critical to replenish energy stores. If you don't replenish, you won't be able to perform well next time you go out for a long training session. For endurance athletes, the best ratio is more carbs than protein. To properly replenish your glycogen stores, fuel up with carb-heavy chocolate milk, Greek yogurt, fruit and even graham crackers. (Yes, pizza works, but in moderation!)
A great post-exercise option is a shake with about eight ounces of almond or cow milk, a large handful of spinach, a banana, a half-scoop of protein and a tablespoon of either peanut butter or cocoa powder.
Want more tips on prepping your body appropriately for your next exercise session? Hear what a nutrition expert has to say on the topic. Now, fuel up, get out there and go play!
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