Nutrition-wise blog

Sports nutrition basics

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. July 25, 2013

So you've made the commitment to train for a marathon, triathlon or other endurance event. You dedicate time and follow your workout schedule, logging each hour and type of workout. But your log may be missing some key information if you're not monitoring your fluid and dietary intake.

Why is it important to pay attention to sports nutrition? The right fuel can help you optimize your training and reach your personal best — or at least finish upright and feeling good.

Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking and perhaps retooling your drinking and food habits during your training. These tips are for those training more than an hour a day.

Dehydration will compromise performance. Drink fluids, mostly water, during and between meals.

  • Pre-workout. Drink enough that you can comfortably exercise.
  • Post-workout. Weigh yourself pre- and post-exercise. For every pound of weight (fluid) loss, drink 16-24 ounces.

Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for your muscles. The longer and more intense the exercise, the more carbohydrate your muscles need. Are you eating nutritious carbohydrate foods at each meal and snack? Examples include fruits, grains, such as cereals, breads, pasta, rice, quinoa or barley, and starchy vegetables, such as peas, corn, and potatoes, as well as milk and yogurt.

  • Pre-workout. Eat a carbohydrate-rich snack or small meal, depending on timing and tolerance.
  • During workout. Drink a sport drink or diluted juice, or eat a small amount of carbohydrate. Some people like the convenience of sport gels or similar products.
  • Post-workout. Drink a carbohydrate-containing beverage soon after finishing. Including protein with carbohydrate following your workout will aid in muscle recovery.  Milk meets these criteria.

Take a close look at your meals and snacks. What are the carbohydrate-rich foods? Do you have a few servings at each meal? Do you carry a water bottle all day? How often to you refill it? Can you tolerate eating and drinking before, during and after your workout? If you're already practicing some of these tips, has it changed your performance?

Need more specific advice tailored to your body size and training needs? Seek out a registered dietitian or certified specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD).

To your health,


July 25, 2013