Exercise fuel tips by Woolworths dietician, Cindy Chin
(04 Aug 2020)

Exercise fuel tips by Woolworths dietician, Cindy Chin
Exercise fuel tips by Woolworths dietician, Cindy Chin
You have to be physically fit to run a marathon but you also need to fuel your body with the right foods pre-race, during the race and after the race.

1. Why what you eat so important for a race:

There are several reasons why good nutrition is important for you to get the most out of your race. Besides the overall benefits of good eating habits and maintaining a healthy body weight, good nutrition ensures that your body gets all the building blocks it needs to fuel your training sessions. It also ensures muscle recovery after training, helps to reduce the risk for injuries, and can provide your immune system with support to keep you fit for your training regime. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to wait for a cold or muscle injury to clear up before you can start training again. Adapt and improve fuel usage- more efficient
Meals before training and races serve two purposes: 
keeping one from feeling hungry before and during exercise and providing optimal levels of energy for exercising muscles. 

2. What should you be eating leading up to the race:

It’s best to have tested any new foods and drinks during training many weeks before race day to avoid any unwanted surprises. 
The purpose of having a nutrition plan in place ahead of time is find out what food and drink works best for your body. 

Purpose: to refuel glycogen stores, prevent dehydration, replace lost electrolytes and prevent stomach discomfort/upsets. 

It's important to eat to meet your energy needs. Adequate amounts of carbs to replenish glycogen stores, protein for muscle repair and recovery, and fat. 
Some professional athletes adjust their eating during certain training sessions to enhance their fuel efficiency. For these strategies to be effective it needs to be well planned and individualised and a dietitian with a special interest in sports nutrition will be able to provide a personalised plan based on your unique training and nutritional needs.

3. The kind of foods and liquids should you be taking in on race day:
Depending on individual tolerance, meals should be consumed an hour or longer (up to 2 hours) before a race or a strenuous training bout. This will ensure that fuel is available when exercise starts and allows time for the gut to process the meal to prevent stomach upsets during exercise.

What you are eating on your run today may influence recovery and performance tomorrow, so ensure that you take in sufficient amounts frequently. 

For short training sessions of less than 60 - 90 minutes it’s possible to only have water without a snack while exercising. 
For training sessions or races longer than 90 minutes, food and fluids become important to ensure that glycogen stores get replenished and the body gets cooled down. This prevents fatigue or exhaustion later on in the run. 
Note that more isn’t necessarily better. The well-trained athlete will be better adapted to use fuels and will need less to prevent fatigue and enhance performance. Taking in in too much energy and fluids can lead to unwanted symptoms (cramps, stomach upset) and overhydration can lead to low blood sodium (salt) levels.

4. Taking sports drinks and gels during races vs. food and water: 
Start eating and/or drinking within 30 - 60 minutes of your race or long training session and have food and fluids every hour thereafter. Having small sips of fluid every 15 - 20 minutes and spacing & planning food snacks for easier sections on the run will ensure that you reach your fuel and hydration goal. Smaller volumes at a time also prevents stomach upsets.

Consider foods that are not too dry, easy to chew and swallow (such as fruit purees) and be mindful that higher protein and fat foods are not easy to digest during intense exercise bouts, although some might also provide salts to the body (such as biltong). Fluids and foods should contain mainly carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores and electrolytes (salts) lost through sweating. Choosing foods and fluids that contain a combination of sugars will provide the contracting muscle with fuel at different stages during the race. Small amounts of easy to digest proteins eaten with carbohydrates may be beneficial for muscle recovery in ultra endurance races such as a marathon.

5. Post race nutrition advice:
Why it is important: During long bouts of exercise, energy and fluid stores get depleted and replacing these stores is essential. How well you recover today will determine how well you perform tomorrow. 
When: To help the body adapt to the physiological stress from a recurring exercise load, stores need to be replaced within the window period for optimal recovery. Aim to eat and drink within 30 minutes after a long bout of exercise, with a small meal within 2 hours after exercise and again after 4 hours. 
What: A combination of fluids, carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes are essential for optimal recovery.

Shop health-boosting food from Woolworths for pre, during & post workout fuel. 

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