Fuelling during your workout and re-fuelling after- do you need to?

February 10, 2017

Recently I talked about fuelling before your workouts but what about during and after? I get the question fairly frequently from clients if they need to eat during activity and/ or immediately afterwards for recovery. The answer really depends on your activity, how long you're being active for, and if you have another event you're participating in within the next 24 hours. It also depends on you and your body because everyone is a little bit different! Keep reading for more details!



Do I need to fuel during activity?


Unless you’re being active for longer than an hour, generally you won’t need additional carbohydrates during your workout. So if you’re at the gym doing a 40 minute workout, that sports drink is probably not necessary unless you are sweating to the point where you see white rings in your clothing from sweat- then a sports drink might be necessary to replace electrolytes (think sodium and potassium).


There is some research that mouth rinses with sports drinks can stimulate the brain to make you feel less fatigued and push yourself further, even if you don’t actually consume them. For that reason, if you’re doing intense activity for 45-60 minutes, you might want to consider swishing some sports drinks around in your mouth to get this benefit and consume small amounts of them but you still want to get most of your fluid requirements from water because carbohydrates during this activity usually isn't necessary. 


Once you start doing activity lasting longer than 60-90 minutes, this is when carbohydrates during activity is a good idea. So if you’re doing a long bike ride that’s 2 hours long, playing sports for 90 minutes, or a long run taking longer than an hour, this is when we would start looking at fuelling during the activity for most people.


How much fuel do I need?


As a general recommendation, the 30-60g of carbohydrates per hour should keep you going for endurance exercise (that goes up to even 90g per hour if you’re being active longer than 2.5 hours!) That can take many forms: sports drinks (one bottle of sport drink is ~42g of carb), sport chews and gels (one gel is usually ~25g), dried fruit (one small box of raisins is around 33g), or even saltine crackers (13 crackers is ~30g of carb). Again, different things work for different people. Personally, I can’t stand gels but chews or dried fruit work well for me. You’ll have to try out different things to see what works for you! 


 Energy gels are one option for fuelling but they don't work for everyone! Try different options and see what works for you. (Image source: http://www.outsidesports.co.nz/)


Fructose tablets and high-fructose fruits like apples and pears are usually not a good idea for two reasons: one is that fructose will not give you energy as quickly since it needs to go to your liver and be converted to glucose before your muscles can use it. The second reason is that fructose can cause gut problems for some people like cramping and diarrhea.  


I can't stress enough the importance of paying attention to how your body FEELS. Are you low on energy near the end of a 60 minute workout despite eating enough carbohydrates overall and before activity and mouth swishing isn't cutting it for you? Then try having some carb mid-way through your activity and see if that helps. Do you feel awesome the whole way through your activity even if it's 90 minutes and extra carbs don't make a difference? Then maybe your body is well conditioned to use fat as fuel and you don't need them. These are a general guideline but nothing replaces paying attention to how your body feels in response to different strategies!


What about energy drinks?


Please do NOT use energy drinks for fuelling during sport! Sports drinks should contain between 5-8g per 100mL carbohydrate because higher than that can cause cramps and diarrhea (not fun stuff!) Energy drinks can have around 10-12g per 100mL, so these could definitely cause you (and your gut) some grief.




So what about after activity? If you had activity that was intense enough to require fuelling during activity (longer than 60-90 minutes), you’re probably going to need to re-fuel. If you were at the gym for 45 minutes, you don’t need to worry about re-fuelling with carbohydrates but if you were lifting weights, 0.3g/kg of protein (around 20-30g) within 30-60 minutes can be beneficial for muscle protein synthesis. If you want to know more about protein and performance, check check back soon since my awesome colleague and friend, Kirsten Oilund RD of Jasper Nutrition Counselling is going to be guest-blogging on the subject!


Smoothies can be a quick, convenient way to refuel and get carbs and protein!


Traditional sports nutrition wisdom was that you needed to eat within half an hour of finishing your activity, which can be tricky when you’re also told to stretch and foam roll and might not have much of an appetite right away. If you have another event less than 24 hours away, this is still recommended but if you finished your activity and don’t have any others coming up in the next 24 hours, you don’t have to worry as much about eating right away but you do want to try to eat within the next four hours. So not eating all day after an event is still not a good idea.


If your next event is in the next 8-24 hours, you’ll want to have around 1g/kg/hour (about 0.5g/lb/hour) for 4-6 hours after the race to get glycogen synthesis going as much as possible and get you ready for your next event. For someone weighing 70kg (~155lbs), this would be 70g per hour for 4-6 hours after the event. What this looks like depends on personal preferences (check out listings of some foods and their carbohydrate contents in my previous post on what to eat before activity here.)


Still have questions about sport nutrition? You can find out more about my services here to come see me for a one-on-one visit!









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