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​Fueling for fitness

​​​​​​​​​​Whether it’s an hour of regular exercise, training for a marathon or game day, what you eat and when, matters.

What to eat

A well-balanced diet with emphasis on carbohydrates is the core of sports nutrition. Fifty-five to 65 percent of total calories from carbohydrates are generally recommended to fuel muscles and allow peak performance. This level of carbohydrate intake can come from two sources: engineered sport products and whole sport foods.

Engineered sport products such as sport drinks, power bars and carbohydrate gels, provide the needed carbohydrates with several added benefits. They are non-perishable, portable and convenient to eat while exercising. Additionally, they can contain additives such as sport beans with caffeine.

Some athletes may feel engineered sport foods are easier to digest than whole sport foods. But digestibility can vary greatly among athletes.

Whole sport foods such as a peanut butter sandwich, fig bars, graham crackers, raisins, chocolate milk or a homemade sports drink are also good options. They provide a more natural form of nutrition with the same amount of carbohydrate grams for less cost. A typical energy bar costs $1.25-$2.75 while a sandwich can cost as little as 30 cents.

Whole sport foods highest in carbohydrates:

  • Pasta, noodles, rice
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes
  • Couscous, barley, millet, bulgur
  • Dried beans, split peas, lentils
  • Bread, rolls, tortillas, wraps, stuffing
  • Pretzels, air-popped popcorn, low-fat crackers, baked chips
  • Hot or cold cereal
  • Bagels, low-fat muffins, corn bread, banana bread
  • Pancakes, waffles, 
  • French toast
  • Milk
  • Fruit and juice
  • Refined sugars*: jelly beans, gummy bears, licorice, drinks sweetened with sugar, sports drinks

*Eat in moderation while consuming a well-balanced diet.

Replacing engineered sport foods with whole foods may take time. Start by sampling items from the list above during training. Include foods that work into your meals on days of sport events.

When to eat

Eating too far ahead or too close to performance time can cause low energy levels or belly discomfort. Most people experience a better work out when:

  • Exercise is scheduled one hour after eating a 100-300 calorie mostly carbohydrate snack. 
  • Thirty to 60 grams of carbohydrate are eaten per hour during an aerobic exercise session of more than one hour. 
  • Seventy-five to 150 grams of carbohydrate are eaten as soon as tolerable and again every two hours for recovery of multiple hours of strenuous exercise. 
  • A small amount of protein is combined with the above-suggested amount of carbohydrate to enhance recovery.

Keep your body running and ready for top performance for workouts and competition. Fill up with the right fuel at the right time.

Article submitted by Allison Machtan, R.D., Marshfield Clinic.

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