Endurance events take sports nutrition to a whole other level, as you are pushing your body well beyond a typical workout or training session. Failing to fuel your body during prolonged, intense physical activity won’t just slow you down—it can actually shut you down mid-stride with the dreaded feeling of hitting the wall or bonking. If you’re curious about what to eat mid-workout, focus on fueling with carbohydrates, water and electrolytes to avoid “bonking.”
Why worry about fueling endurance activities?
During exercise, your body’s prefer source of energy is sugar—glucose specifically. Your body has some glucose stored in blood sugar as well as muscle and liver glycogen. Unfortunately these energy stores are not unlimited—you start to drain your stores after about 60 minutes of intense activity.1 Providing an alternative form of energy in the form of simple carbohydrates is imperative for endurance athletes.
Fueling with carbohydrates
To avoid hitting the wall, the primary endurance fuel should be clean-burning simple carbohydrates. Feeding your body carbohydrates alone, or along with a small amount of protein, helps maintain the body’s glucose levels reducing the reliance on muscle and liver glycogen stores which keeps you going faster and for longer.2 During long events like a marathon, the addition of a high quality raw fat like coconut oil can also be beneficial. Coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride metabolized in the liver to provide instant non-carbohydrate energy.3
Just because you had a carbohydrate filled breakfast before the event does not mean it will sustain you for hours of physical activity. You should consume at least 22 grams of carbohydrates per hour of activity.2 You may need to adjust the amount based on your level of fitness, and personal preference, so it’s important to experiment while listening to your body.
When it comes to choosing a food to eat mid-workout, it must be something you like and that your body can digest. Dates mixed with coconut oil are one option, but can get messy. Many athletes prefer a gel or bar, and should be consumed based on personal preference. Gels are often easier for runners to digest, while bars are a little more substantial and often provide a bit more protein for longer burning energy during cycling, hiking or rock climbing workouts. Vega Sport Endurance Gel and Vega Sport Energy Bar are designed to fuel endurance mid-workout.
Hydration for endurance exercise
While carbohydrates provide fuel for endurance, hydration is also a critical component. Maintaining balance of electrolytes and water during exercise helps to sustain performance, improve cardiac output, blood flow, and reduces net usage of muscle glycogen. Endurance athletes can lose up to 2.5 liters of sweat per hour. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, difficult concentrating, delayed hand/eye coordination, and swelling of extremities.4
Once you feel thirsty, you are past the point of needing water. It’s best to sip two to four ounces (up to ½ cup) of electrolyte- enhanced water every 15 minutes to avoid dehydration. Replenish electrolytes lost in sweat with an electrolyte-rich beverage such as Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator. It’s also ideal to consume a gel or bar that has added electrolytes.
By consuming enough water, electrolytes and carbohydrates you’ll be able to push yourself to the next level when training for an endurance event, and reach the finish line without hitting a wall.
What is your preferred source of mid-workout fuel?
- Bernardot, Dan. (2012) Advanced Sports Nutrition. Human Kinetics. 2nd ed.
- Jeukendrup AE. (2004). Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise and Performance. Nutrition. 20:669–677.
- Clegg, ME. (2010). Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 61(7): 653–679
- Sawka. M. H. (2007) Exercise and Fluid Replacement Position Stand. American College of Sports Medicine. 39 (2). 377-390. Accessed on 3/10/14 from: http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2007/02000/Exercise_and_Fluid_Replacement.22.aspx