Real Food Refueling During Exercise

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 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.

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
Banana 7 oz. (31 g)
Raisins 2.5 oz box (35g)
Medjool Dates 1.5 dates (35g)
Small pitted dates 5 dates (40g)
Dried apricots 5-6 apricots (30-35g)
Dried pineapple 1.5 rings (30g)
Dried Mango, cut into bite size pieces 40 grams (34g)
Honey 1 Tbsp (28g)
Fig Bars 3 (33g)
Yoplait Original Yogurt Strawberry 2 gm fat 6 oz. (27g)
Boiled Potato 2 ½ “ diameter, 136 grams (28g)
Baked Sweet Potato 2 ½ “ diameter, 114 grams (24g)


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


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Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan and Walnuts

Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan and Walnuts

2 heads broccoli, cut into small florets (or about 8 cups)

5 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tablespoons olive oil, avocado oil or canola oil

½ tsp salt

Pepper to taste

¼ cup walnuts toasted and chopped, see note below or use the recipe for spicy walnuts

⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Prep the oven: Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Prep the broccoli: Place the florets into a bowl and toss with the garlic, oil and salt and pepper. Place the broccoli florets on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer.

Bake: Transfer the sheet pan to the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until crisp-tender and the tips of some of the florets are browned. Stir the broccoli once partway through cooking so it bakes evenly.

Finish the dish: Remove the broccoli from the oven and immediately toss with the walnuts and Parmesan cheese. Serve hot.


How to Toast Walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and spread them out into a single layer. Pop them in the oven and toast until browned, stirring occasionally, about 4 to 5 minutes.

How to Cut Broccoli Florets

Hold the broccoli with the stem facing up on the cutting board. Use your knife to make downward cuts, separating the florets from the thick center stem, leaving about 1″ of the stem.

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Baked Garlic and Caper Salmon

Baked Garlic and Caper Salmon

For the best oven baked salmon with a tender texture, cover the salmon as it bakes. The results of this cooking method will remind you of a fine dining experience!

Side dishes that would pair well: Grilled Asparagus, Caesar Salad, Herb Roasted Potatoes, Lemony Herb Couscous, Sugar Snap Peas, Lemon Green Beans, Rice Pilaf, Honey Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts, or a Mediterranean Chickpea Salad.

Wines that would pair well with the salmon are Pinot Noir, an oak-aged Chardonnay, Viognier, White Rioja, White Burgundy, or a White Pinot Noir.

Makes 2 servings

2 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, preferably wild-caught

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons minced garlic

3 Tablespoons drained capers

Chopped or torn fresh herbs like dill, parsley, or chives

Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Season the top of the salmon with salt and pepper.

Add the butter, garlic, and capers to a baking dish. Place into the oven and cook until the butter is melted and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Take the dish out of the oven, tilt the pan so the butter sauce runs to the side, add the salmon fillets and spoon the butter mixture on top.

Cover the baking dish with a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper. Bake the salmon, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover, and check the temperature.

Bake the salmon until an instant-read thermometer reads at least 125 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part. (The USDA recommends cooking fish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F but most people prefer the taste and texture of salmon less than this.) Watch closely so the fish does not overcook.

Continue to bake, covered, until your desired doneness, 5 to 6 minutes more, depending on how thick the salmon is.

Sprinkle with fresh herbs, and serve with a spoonful of the garlic caper butter on top.

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