Sports Nutrition Series: Pre-Exercise Fuel

(Don’t miss Sports Nutrition Series #1 on Hydration)

Many people are comfortable with the idea that eating before exercise improves performance.**

But what should you eat?

The basic guidelines:

– High in carbohydrate

– Moderate in protein

– Low in fat & fiber.

Carbohydrates are important before exercise to help maintain blood sugar and to maximize glycogen stores. A low level of fat & fiber helps keep stomach discomfort at bay.

When you eat affects how much to eat. Smaller meals or snacks can be consumed closer to the time of exercise, while bigger meals should be eaten with more time between the meal and the workout.

Recommendations include:

2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight 4 hours before exercise & .5 grams of carb per pound 1 hour before exercise.

What does that look like? For a 150 pound person, that means 300 grams of carb 4 hrs before a workout, then another 75 grams an hour before exercise.  (That’s about 1200 calories for a meal 4 hours beforehand, and 300 calories as a snack later.)

Despite any of these suggestions, the most important guideline to follow:

Figure out what works for you!! (Specific numbers don’t really matter.)

Every person is different & handles food in a different manner. Some people can eat a huge plate of nachos and go for a run with no trouble, while others eat a cracker and suffer from neverending stomach distress.

Practice what works for you before a big event!

Also, any fuel is better than no fuel!!

**Don’t believe that? Let’s recap a little study.

Athletes with low glycogen stores (i.e. not much stored fuel) biked hard for 45 minutes, then sprinted 15 minutes.

Let’s compare the improvements in that final sprint based on what they had to eat 5 minutes before exercise:

1. No food – 0% (baseline)

2. Sugar (180 calories) – 10% improvement

3. Energy bar (270 calories) –10% improvement

4. Energy bar(5 minutes before exercise) PLUS breakfast 4 hrs before (800 calories total) – 20% improvement

A 20% improvement just from eating is a BIG DEAL!!!

Still not buying it?

In another study athletes biked as hard as they could until exhaustion:

The individuals who ate a 400 calorie breakfast 3 hrs before exercise biked 27 minutes longer than those who had nothing to eat.

Not too shabby if I do say so myself. How many hours of biking & training would it take to improve your endurance that much?!

Make eating a part of your training!

Post Race Recovery Tips

Everyone recovers from a race differently. It depends on so many things- the race distance, state of training, conditions of the race, etc. You may not need to recover at all from a 5K, but you might need a full week or more for a marathon, or anything in between!

Since my main goal is injury prevention, I’m taking recovery from the half marathon seriously. It’s helpful if you look at recovery as part of your training plan. (Not that I was very good at sticking with that…)

What to do at the finish line

Don’t stop moving. Going from 100 to 0 can be dangerous. Keep walking around for a little while after you’ve finished. Grab a medal, check out the festivities, get your camera from the car- anything to keep you moving for a little while.

Hydrate. You hydrated leading up to the race, you hydrated during the race, and now you have to hydrate after the race. It’s very difficult to meet your needs during the race, so replenishing fluid loss is super important. Your urine should return to a pale yellow or clear within in a few hours from the race. You can also weigh yourself before and after to come up with amore precise hydration estimate.

EAT!! Even if you’re not hungry, eat something with carbohydrates. The period just after exertion is the prime opportunity to refuel and replace lost glycogen and glucose stores- your body is more receptive to carbohydrates during this time. If you really can’t eat, have a drink with carbohydrates in it. A litte bit later, go for some protein too. A carb to protein ratio of 4:1 is optimal, but no need to do any crazy math.

Stretch. Light stretching, nothing too intense if you’re already feeling the aftermath of the run.

Get warm & dry. Nuff said.

Ice. Ice baths can be a great way to help ice your whole lower body at once, but they’re not mandatory. Definitely ice any injuries or nagging pains that are more than just sore muscles. You don’t have to do a full on polar bear plunge to reap the benefits of an ice bath. I used to dump a whole bag of ice cubes in frigid water than hop in – but then I got my sanity back. Now I fill the tub with chilly (but not freezing) water. I get in while it’s still filling up to eliminate some of the difficultly of submerging yourself in cold water. After I’m completely in and the water covers my legs, I turn the water off and dump in a bowl of ice. Sit for 10-15 minutes. It helps if you keep your top half warm, have a warm drink, and good reading material for distraction.

(Some people say a hot bath would feel much better- it probably would, but it could cause more damage since heat can increase inflammation and raises body temperature. Some people say it’s helpful because increasing circulation can help eliminate waste and the heat helps loosen muscles.  I’m not an expert here, but I lean towards waiting a day or two before hitting the hot tub.)

The Day(s) After the Race

Light activity. Or complete rest. You be the judge- listen to your body. Ease back into things with light, low-level activities like walking, swimming, cycling, or water running. When you move back into running, keep the intensity low. Gradually build back up.

Stretch. Keep stretching- make sure you warm up first, then do gentle static stretching (no bouncing!)

Massage. A massage right after the race may feel great, but too soon could make your muscles feel worse. 24-48 hours post race is the optimal time for a massage. If you can’t get a “real” massage, take matters into your own hands. Stroke (don’t knead) muscles towards your heart. Foam rolling or using the “stick” can help too. Massage helps work out lactic acid and built up waste products.

Elevate your legs. This can help drain blood & refresh blood upon standing. You can get the same effect from recovery (compression) socks.

Hydrate. Nope not off the hook yet! Drinking enough fluid is important to restore blood volume- adequate blood volume is important for adequate blood flow, which helps muscles heal faster.

Sleep. Many of your body’s repair processes kick into high drive while you’re sleeping. Plus your body’s tired- give it the rest it needs! Use some of the extra time you would normally be training to catch some zzzz’s. Getting enough sleep can also help keep you from getting sick (a hard race can decrease your immunity for ~72 hours- so wash those hands!)

Eat. While a race isn’t an excuse to eat everything in sight, you might need to. The best strategy is to listen to your body. It’s perfectly natural to have an increased appetite for a few days post race- go with the flow. Chances are your body knows what it needs better than you mind does.

Reverse taper. When you’re ready to start running again, think of it is a reverse taper period. Kind of like how you slowly built up your training in the first place. Start with low mileage and low intensity, and gradually go from there.

Finally- respect the stress of a race!!! Your body worked hard, you need to treat it right afterwards! Post marathon depression is very common- look for something else to focus on or work towards until you’re ready to think about what comes next for you 🙂

Have you taken the fast food quiz yet?! Answers coming tonight!!

Sports Nutrition Series: Hydration

I promised you a Sports Nutrition Series, so here you go…. the first installment!!

Hydration is extremely important in an athlete’s ability to train, compete, and recover. Even slight dehydration (1-2% body weight loss) can have a negative impact on performance.

“No other nutritional intervention comes close to providing the performance-enhancing effects of staying well-hydrated.”Bob Murray, PhD FACSM

Why is dehydration bad? It causes impaired heat dissipation, which causes a rise in body temperature and increased strain on the cardiovascular system. Your heart beats faster, you use up glycogen faster, your brain function becomes impaired, and exercise just plain feels harder. It can also cause overall fatigue and lethargy.

Standard fluid recommendations have traditionally stated ‘drinking to thirst’ is adequate to prevent dehydration. However, this is largely based on sedentary adults, not endurance athletes or heavy exercisers, who typically need more fluid. The American College of Sports Medicine covers their bases by saying learn your personal needs, which can be done by weighing yourself pre and post exercise.

It’s tough to state an actual number or amount of fluid that is recommended since it varies person to person. Essentially, the volume of fluid consumed should be based on sweat lost. Some people sweat a TON and some not at all. The amount of fluid these two types of people need would be different. Fluid should be replaced at a rate close to or equal to sweat loss. Learning how much you sweat can help prevent dehydration. For example, you weigh yourself right before exercise and right after, and notice a 2lb weight loss- this means you should drink an additional 32 ounces of water during your next training so you don’t become dehydrated. [1 pound (16oz) of body weight lost = 1 pint (16 fl oz) of sweat lost] If you weight 150+ lbs try not to lose more than 3lbs. Do this by drinking regularly throughout exercise. Water can be turned into sweat in 10 minutes!

Thirst alone is not the best indicator of dehydration. You get thirsty when your body senses a decrease in body water, or an increase in sodium concentration, meaning you’re only thirsty once you’ve experience a fair amount of loss. Basically that means the sensation of thirst doesn’t match the body’s need for fluid all that well, especially for exercising athletes. Also, fluid quenches thirst before body levels have been fully replaced.

Excessive fluid consumption can also causes a problem by diluting the body’s sodium (called hyponatremia). It’s much rarer than dehydration, but it’s important to be aware of, especially in endurance events.


Things that cause decreased fluid intake:

– Uncomfortable sensation of fluid in the stomach

– Poor access to fluid during exercise

– Lack of education

Ways to increase fluid intake:

– Easy access (nearby, easy container to drink out of)

– Train gut to tolerate more fluid

– Consume fluid at regular intervals

– Make it taste good- improving flavor can increase consumption

– Cool it down – temperature of a beverage has negligible effect on body temperature, but most people will drink more of a cooler beverage

What should I do during training?

– Learn your sweat rate

Practice drinking!

What should I do during an event?

– Put what you’ve learned in training to use

– Drink on a schedule to avoid dehydration or distraction from drinking

How do I know if I’m drinking enough?

Honestly, the answer’s in the toilet. Check the color of your urine.

– It should be fairly clear and of good quantity

– You should urinate every 2-4 hours

– Your morning urine shouldn’t be dark or concentrated

Urine color chart:

Fullscreen capture 2112010 23149 PM

If your urine is darker than number 3, drink more!(Chart developed by L. Armstrong, PhD)

Plain water is adequate during exercise that lasts less than hour. Sports drinks may be a good option in exercise lasting longer than 60-90 minutes. I’ll address sports drinks next time!!


Want something more specific than ‘learn your needs’? Here’s an estimation:

Start off hydrated: Drink 2-3ml per pound body weight 4 hours before exercise. (That’s about 10-15 ounces for someone weighing 150 pounds.) Don’t try to overhydrate- you can only absorb so much at one time and you’ll just pee it out.

Drink regularly during exercise. Have an idea how much fluid you usually lose. Take a couple gulps every 15 minutes.

Replace lost fluid: After exercise, drink 50% more fluid than you lost in sweat. Sipping slowly allows better absorption.

So there ya have it. Obviously there’s a lot more to say about that, but there’s an overview for you. How do you stay hydrated?!