Fuel: What to Eat During a Workout

My last post outlined what to eat before a workout, and explained the body’s need for carbohydrates for fuel. You won’t always have to eat during a workout. During a typical 30- to 60-minute exercise session, you generally only need to worry about fluids and staying hydrated.

But if you plan to exercise for 90 minutes or more, you will need additional fuel during your workout. During prolonged exercise, your body will run out of energy from the carbohydrates you ate 30 minutes before your workout.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 30 to 60 carbohydrate grams every hour during a two- to three-hour workout. During a hike or other all-day exercise, aim for 60 to 90 carbohydrate grams per hour.

Granola Bars
Try granola or fruit for a snack before or during exercise. (Photo by jenn.b)

When you choose foods for a mid-workout snack, look for easily digested, high-carbohydrate foods. Digestion is especially an issue during prolonged high-impact exercise, such as running. You don’t want an upset stomach during your workout! In fact, a sports drink may be a better carbohydrate source than solid food during a prolonged run.

If your workout involves cycling or other low-impact exercise, try a granola bar, raisins, crackers or other light carbohydrate snack. You will still need to replenish fluids, so remember to drink water with your food. Drink 3 to 6 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes, rather than gulping large quantities all at once. If you cannot tolerate solid food during a workout, you can have a sports drink instead.

Through trial and error, you will discover the best carbohydrate fuel for your workouts. If you have diabetes or other medical condition, ask your doctor about snacks and exercising.

Next, we’ll look at fuel for recovery after exercise.


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