What to Eat During Sport

 Photography by Raven Eye Photography. Athlete Heather Scully (July 8th, 2016).

Photography by Raven Eye Photography. Athlete Heather Scully (July 8th, 2016).

About a month ago, I covered some nutrition strategies to help fuel your body before you engage in sport or activity. Re-cap: aim to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack 1 to 4 hours before activity and sip on fluids throughout the day. Choose foods lower in fat to prevent an upset stomach. You can catch the whole thing here

Depending on the length and intensity of your chosen sport, you may also need to top up your muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores during activity, as well as replace some of the fluid and electrolytes that you are losing in your sweat.

 

When should you eat during sport? 

For activity lasting less than 30 minutes you likely do not need anything. Begin well fueled and hydrated.

For activity lasting 30-60 minutes (and up to 90 minutes if the intensity is low) you typically just need water. There is, however, some evidence that small amounts of carbohydrate (simple sugars), even just in the form of a mouth-rinse, can stimulate parts of the brain to increase work-efforts! You can read more about that here

If your activity is longer than 60-90 minutes, topping up with extra carbohydrate during the session can help to maintain blood sugar levels for your muscles and brain, since your stores have likely run out by this time. Your body will also benefit from a source of electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, to replace those lost in your sweat. For these types of activities, you’ll want to aim for at least 30 g of carbohydrates per hour. However, for ultra-endurance events lasting longer than ~3 hours, performance can be improved by consuming up to 90g of carbohydrates per hour. I know what you’re thinking…that’s a lot! But, the gut is highly trainable and can adapt to tolerate more nutrition during activity. If you are participating in an endurance sport competitively, you’ll want to make experimenting and “training your gut” part of your training plan.

 

Mmmmm…date, oatmeal, chocolate energy balls!!

 

What should you eat during sport?

During activity focus on eating easy to digest carbohydrates that are lower in fibre. Some of my favourites are:

  • dates (or other dried fruits),
  • bananas,
  • salty pretzels,
  • savoury rice mixtures,
  • mini muffins,
  • fig bars, and
  • energy balls

But sometimes even those are hard to choke back during continuous or high intensity sports, so the following simpler sugars work great too and are less likely to cause stomach upset for many athletes:

  • ‘baby-food’ or fruit purees,
  • gummy candies,
  • sport gels, and
  • sport drinks

To give you an example of volume, 30g of carbohydrate is about 2 dates, 1 banana, 7 pretzels, 1 sport gel, or 500ml of a sport drink. Aim to eat early and eat often, choosing small amounts every 15-20 minutes or so.

For slower-paced, lower-intensity activities like hiking or leisure ski touring, or for more intermittent activities like volleyball or hockey tournaments with scheduled breaks, it is often okay to stop for a full meal or choose snacks that also contain a significant amount of protein and healthy fats, as quick digestion is less important. My go-to ski touring lunch is a chickpea salad sandwich, cherry tomatoes, a few dates, and a square (or two!) of frozen dark chocolate.

 

Stay tuned – in the coming weeks we will cover nutrition strategies for recovery after sport!  

-K