Maria leading a training hike to Camp Muir with the American Lung Association Climb for Clean Air 2004
Real Food Refueling During Exercise
Carbohydrate ingestion during exercise can reduce muscle glycogen breakdown. During a long hike, snowshoeing, or intense bike ride, replenishing energy stores is key. Some athletes rely only on sports energy gels that contain quick-digesting sugars to provide a burst of energy and top off glycogen stores as they fatigue during longer efforts.
However, some endurance athletes do not want to consume a gel, a sugary sports drink or a bar packed with synthetic ingredients and prefer real food refueling. Real foods can be just as effective as sports nutrition products. Although sports nutrition products can be a good choice, not to mention convenient, whole foods are a good choice because of the wide variety of nutrients in them, including antioxidants. Antioxidants in food can help reduce oxidative stress, promote recovery and improve performance.
If you do feel that you perform better with a sports beverage, here are some I like:
Recommended sports beverages:
Gatorade Endurance, carbs
Fluid Performance Natural, carbs
Gatorade Thirst Quencher, carbs
GU Hydration Drink, carbs
Hammer HEED, carbs
Accelerade, carbs and whey protein
Powerbar Recovery, carbs and whey protein
Fluids should always be consumed along with solid foods during training to aid in absorption of the carbohydrate. Read more on hydration.
Keep in mind that the real foods will take longer to absorb than a gel, and that the fiber content might be too much during races for those with sensitive stomachs. Some athletes have increased difficulty in digesting and absorbing food at high intensity. It might also take a bit of chewing. So, with all refueling regimens, practice and see what works best.
And utilize these guidelines along with optimal pre-exercise and post-exercise nutrition strategies.
The majority of athletes will perform better when they fuel properly according to these guidelines during workouts lasting longer than 75 minutes.
1:15 to 3 hours: 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour.
3+ hours: 30 to 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour
Use the table below to calculate how much you might need. The serving size of provides 25-35g of carbohydrate, which is the equivalent of most gels.
|Type of food
||Serving size for 25-30g of carbs
||7 oz. (31 g)
||2.5 oz box (35g)
||1.5 dates (35g)
|Small pitted dates
||5 dates (40g)
||5-6 apricots (30-35g)
||1.5 rings (30g)
|Dried Mango, cut into bite size pieces
||40 grams (34g)
||1 Tbsp (28g)
|Yoplait Original Yogurt Strawberry 2 gm fat
||6 oz. (27g)
||2 ½ “ diameter, 136 grams (28g)
|Baked Sweet Potato
||2 ½ “ diameter, 114 grams (24g)
|Home Made Energy Balls
Maria Faires, RD is a mountaineering fitness and nutrition expert.
What Should I Eat before Exercise? Pre-Exercise Nutrition and the Response to Endurance Exercise: Current Prospective and Future Directions
Metabolic and Performance Effects of Raisins versus Sports Gel as Pre-Exercise Feedings in Cyclists
Carbohydrate ingestion during prolonged exercise: effects on metabolism and performance
Performance Effects of Carbohydrate Ingestion between Bouts of Intense Aerobic Interval Exercise
Exercise and oxidative stress: potential effects of antioxidant dietary strategies in sport