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Sports Nutrition Series: Pre-Exercise Fuel

Posted May 11 2010 3:17pm

(Don’t miss Sports Nutrition Series #1 on Hydration )

Many people are comfortable with the idea that eating before exercise improves performance.**

But what should you eat?

The basic guidelines:

- High in carbohydrate

- Moderate in protein

- Low in fat & fiber.

Carbohydrates are important before exercise to help maintain blood sugar and to maximize glycogen stores. A low level of fat & fiber helps keep stomach discomfort at bay.

When you eat affects how much to eat. Smaller meals or snacks can be consumed closer to the time of exercise, while bigger meals should be eaten with more time between the meal and the workout.

Recommendations include:

2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight 4 hours before exercise & .5 grams of carb per pound 1 hour before exercise.

What does that look like? For a 150 pound person, that means 300 grams of carb 4 hrs before a workout, then another 75 grams an hour before exercise.  (That’s about 1200 calories for a meal 4 hours beforehand, and 300 calories as a snack later.)

Despite any of these suggestions, the most important guideline to follow:

Figure out what works for you!! (Specific numbers don’t really matter.)

Every person is different & handles food in a different manner. Some people can eat a huge plate of nachos and go for a run with no trouble, while others eat a cracker and suffer from neverending stomach distress.

Practice what works for you before a big event!

Also, any fuel is better than no fuel!!

**Don’t believe that? Let’s recap a little study.

Athletes with low glycogen stores (i.e. not much stored fuel) biked hard for 45 minutes, then sprinted 15 minutes.

Let’s compare the improvements in that final sprint based on what they had to eat 5 minutes before exercise:

1. No food – 0% (baseline)

2. Sugar (180 calories) – 10% improvement

3. Energy bar (270 calories) –10% improvement

4. Energy bar(5 minutes before exercise) PLUS breakfast 4 hrs before (800 calories total) – 20% improvement

A 20% improvement just from eating is a BIG DEAL!!!

Still not buying it?

In another study athletes biked as hard as they could until exhaustion:

The individuals who ate a 400 calorie breakfast 3 hrs before exercise biked 27 minutes longer than those who had nothing to eat.

Not too shabby if I do say so myself. How many hours of biking & training would it take to improve your endurance that much?!

Make eating a part of your training!

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