Even if you’ve already thought about incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet for a competitive edge, and stocked your pantry like an athlete, you may still be figuring out how to be better at properly fuel endurance exercise. Whether you’re running your first race or tenth marathon, registering for your annual century ride or thinking about taking on an Ironman triathlon, mid-workout nutrition is crucial to avoid hitting a wall or “bonking.”
The need for mid-workout nutrition
No matter how fit you are, your body can only go so far on pre-workout fuel and the stored reserves, before you need additional fuel to help going. In fact, those stores glycogen reserves in your muscles and liver begin to be drained at about 60 minutes—and that’s when you hit the wall or bonk. For workouts longer than an hour need easily digestible simple carbs as mid-workout fuel. Sometimes a mix of a little protein and fat can help to sustain the instant energy carbohydrates provide. Hydration is also of critical importance to sustain endurance.
Best foods to fuel mid-workout
Easily digested simple carbs are your first fuel choice. To continue at maximum pace, your body needs 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Great whole food choices are dates, dried apricots, raisins, or fruit juice. You can also check the nutrition labels of sports gels, bars and drinks to ensure you’re getting enough carbohydrates per serving. When buying sport gel, bars or drinks, check to make sure they don’t contain maltodextrin or any artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. If you have a food sensitivity you’ll also want to ensure they are free of common allergens such as dairy, gluten and soy.
For lower intensity and longer workouts, small amounts of high-quality protein and fat can help sustain the quick burning fuel of carbohydrates. Chia seeds, hempseeds, pumpkin seeds and nuts are my top choices. I’ll either grab some in trail mix mid-cycle, or nutrient dense energy bar.
How to hydrate for endurance
When you’re working hard for an extended period of time, you’re going to sweat heavily. It’s important not to just rehydrate with water, but to also include electrolytes. The main electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride. Your blood circulates better when you’re hydrated, delivering oxygen to the muscles and clearing lactate buildup so you can go longer. Sip on coconut water mid-workout, make your own drink with dates, lemon juice and sea salt, or try an electrolyte-enhanced hydration powder.
Adjust mid-workout fueling depending on your workout
Mid-workout fueling won’t be the same for every person or even every workout. Get in the habit of listening to your body, and noticing the signs of when your energy levels start to drop, and focus waver—and refuel accordingly. Your main objective during training should be to never become hungry or thirsty. I have found sipping on electrolyte-rich water every 15 to 20 minutes during a workout, and refueling with easily digestible carbohydrates every 45 minutes works well for my body.
Mid-workout fueling may be a weakness in your training. I believe in being honest with yourself so you can address your weakness head on, and begin to fix it. There will always be weaknesses in your training to work on—your focus has to be on getting better through constant improvement. Head to FuelYourBetter.com to address your training weakness and be better.