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.
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)|
Maria Faires, RD is a mountaineering fitness and nutrition expert.