Whether you're a runner, cyclist, triathlete or swimmer or you just enjoy the exhilaration of participating in outdoor sports and adventures, you'll benefit from proper fuelling and hydration. Good nutrition will help sustain your energy, increase your endurance, promote recovery and allow you to perform to your full potential. Crucially, it will also help you stay healthy and injury-free. Here's an easy guide to what you should be eating and drinking before, during and after training.
Fuelling properly before a workout or adventure can help you keep going faster and longer. Your pre-workout meal should consist of a balanced combination of carbohydrate, protein and fat. This will produce a sustained energy release.
Carbs are your muscles' preferred fuel and provides energy faster and more efficiently than either fat or protein. Without carbs, your ability to exercise at high intensities will be reduced and you will fatigue quicker.
What, how much and when you eat, depends on the timing of your workout or race. For midday or evening exercise, have an easy-to-digest meal 2 - 4 hours before you set off. Breakfast could be porridge with milk and fruit; eggs or avocado on toast or Greek yogurt with fruit and walnuts. Lunch could be pasta with chicken and spinach; rice with fish and broccoli; or noodles with tofu and veg.
No time for a meal? Have a small carb-rich snack 30 - 60 minutes beforehand. A CLIF Bar energy bar, peanut butter on toast, a banana or a gel, like a CLIF SHOT energy gel, are perfect options.
Fasted workouts (e.g. first thing in the morning) or training with low carb stores are fine provided you plan to train for less than 90 minutes and/ or at an easy pace. Anything more and you'll struggle to keep up a good pace.
You only have enough stored carbs (glycogen) to last for 1 ½ - 2 hours of hard training, so you'll need to take on board extra carbs if you'll be on the move for longer. They will help you maintain your pace, keep going longer and delay fatigue.
Aim to consume 30 - 60 g carbs per hour of exercise. For gruelling workouts lasting longer than 3 hours, 90g carbs per hour can be advantageous. But any more than this will sit heavy in your stomach.
Start fuelling 30-60 minutes into your workout, rather than waiting until you feel fatigued. Refuel every 20 - 30 minutes. Everyone's different so you'll need to experiment to find the exact timings that suit you best. If you're planning to compete, practise your fuelling strategy in training so you'll know how to fuel your races. Here are some examples of foods supplying 30g carbohydrate:
• 500ml Isotonic sports drink
• 2 small bananas
• 2 x 30ml energy gels
• 40g raisins
• 4 energy chews (e.g. CLIF BLOKS)
• 1 energy bar (e.g. Clif Bar)
Make sure you start every workout or race properly hydrated. There are no strict rules about how much to drink - your needs vary with your build, speed and the weather. Drink when you feel thirsty but avoid gulping large volumes of fluids.
For most conditions, between 400 and 800 ml per hour should prevent dehydration as well as overhydration (which can lead to hyponatraemia, a serious medical condition where sodium levels in the bloodstream are diluted).
Water is fine if you're exercising for less than an hour; squash or isotonic sports drinks for longer workouts. Electrolytes in the form of sports drinks or tabs dissolved in water can benefit performance when sweat losses are high, usually when exercising longer than 2 hours or in hot, humid conditions.
After your workout, you need to replace the fluid you lost in sweat. Aim to drink 1 ½ times the amount of fluid lost. To get an idea of how much fluid you need, you can weigh yourself before and after. For each 1kg weight loss you'll need to drink 1 ½ litres.
But don't drink large volumes in one go. Replacing fluid takes time and is best achieved by drinking little and often.
It's a good idea to team up protein and carbohydrate shortly after your workout. Do this within 2 hours if you plan to exercise again in the next 8 hours; otherwise just eat your usual meal. You need carbohydrate to replace the fuel you burned and protein to repair damaged muscle cells.
For rapid refuelling, consume 1.0-1.2g of carbohydrate per kg body weight (70-84g for a 70kg person) and around 20g of protein. Great recovery options include milk (or flavoured milk), yogurt, recovery shakes and protein bars.
Everyone's different so you will need to work out what works for you. Try different foods and drinks, experiment with quantities and timing. Some people prefer natural foods, others like the convenience of sports nutrition products, such as bars, gels and chews.
The choice will also depend on your specific activity and workout goal. For example, solid foods and bars are relatively easy to consume while cycling or hiking; while gels and chews are usually easier to consume while running.
The key is to develop your own fuelling and hydration plan, one that will enable you to get the most out of each workout and adventure.