Properly fueling before, during and after exercise is as important as training your heart, lungs and muscles for maximal athletic performance, according to an expert at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition.
Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., FACSM, a Boston-area sports dietitian and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, focused on the benefits, options and role of fueling before, during and after exercise, noting engineered food, such as energy gels, bars and drinks may not be better for fueling than regular food. “These foods are generally more about convenience than necessity,” said Clark. “Your body basically needs water and carbohydrates before exercise, so something as simple as water plus raisins, pretzels or a small fruit smoothie can be adequate.”
Clark recommends planning ahead for proper fueling. “If you can make the time to train, you can take the time to fuel correctly,” she said. Depending on your personal tolerance and exercise intensity, an athlete can eat as few as five minutes before exercise - such as prior to a training run - to four hours before exercise for more intense activity. When exercising moderately hard for more than 60 to 90 minutes, Clark recommends fueling during activity. During these events, such as marathons or long bikes rides, the body’s blood sugar tends to drop, negatively affecting the brain and muscles. Clark recommends consuming 200-300 calories per hour, depending on your size and ability to tolerate food during the exercise. “For some athletes, energy gels or bars may be the most convenient way to fuel during exercise, but other snacks work too.” said Clark. “Experiment with a variety of foods during training so your body can properly train your digestive track as well.”
Refueling after hard exercise is important as well. “Sports drinks with added protein can help aid in recovery, but you can also benefit from the carbs and protein in chocolate milk or yogurt for the necessary muscle repair,” said Clark.