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Fueling Your Body During Exercise

There are a number of factors that determine what you should consume during exercise. The most notable factor is duration. The primary concern during short duration exercise is to maintain proper hydration. I require that all my clients bring water with them during our trainings, a sip here or there from a water fountain is not enough. If your exercise lasts less than and hour then purified drinking water should be adequate at low intensities. Bring the effort level up with heavy weight training, or exercising above that so called fat burning zone and now your workout should be accompanied by a sports drink or electrolyte replacement drink. If you are pregnant, have low blood sugar or are diabetic you should bring some carbohydrate based food as a back up for times when you feel your blood sugar dropping. In some cases a sports drink will work well for this population as well, the point is to plan and experiment.

Before I go further into sports drinks and electrolyte replacement I want to delve into the importance of water. Most people are dehydrated before they even begin exercise. Do you ever experience headaches and unusual fatigue during a workout? If so you are most likely dehydrated. Do you check your heart rate and notice that it seems a bit high for the level of work you are doing? This can also be a sign of dehydration. Before you even begin your workout you should be consuming water. The amount I recommend to start with is half your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 160 pounds, you should start tracking your water consumption and be sure to drink at least 80 ounces a day. On days you exercise you will need to consume even more. For those who workout first thing in the morning you should be aware that this is the time of day that your body is naturally most dehydrated, so drink up as soon as you roll out of bed.

What is in a sports drink or electrolyte replacement drink? An electrolyte replacement drink is designed to replace the fluids (that would be water) and electrolytes (which are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, etc) lost during exercise. Sports drinks and electrolyte replacement drinks are one choice for instant energy during moderate to heavy exercise and also for muscle recovery afterwards. The idea is to start hydrated before you workout, drink an appropriate amount of electrolyte fluid during exercise to maintain blood glucose levels and then perhaps ingest some as well after exercise to balance fluid losses.

Here’s the scoop on electrolytes and why you should think about whether you need to add this to your workouts. Electrolytes are minerals that, when dissolved in water, break into small, electrically charged particles called ions. They are present wherever there's water in your body, such as your blood, cells and cell surroundings. Electrolytes regulate your body's fluids, helping to maintain a healthy blood pH balance, and creating the electrical impulses essential to all aspects of physical activity; from basic cell function to complex neuromuscular interactions needed for athletic performance. Many people know sodium and chloride are among the body's most important electrolytes, they both help excite nerves and muscles, but don't think dousing your food with table salt (sodium chloride) is the key to proper electrolyte replacement. Consider these other key electrolytes:
Calcium - aids muscle contraction
Magnesium - aids healthy cell function
Potassium - helps regulate pH balance
Phosphate - helps regulate pH balance
If you eat a balanced diet you are probably consuming adequate quantities of electrolytes for normal human function. When consumed, electrolytes separate into positively and negatively charged ions in the water inside or surrounding each cell and in the bloodstream. As long as your hydration and electrolyte levels stay in balance, you enjoy normal physical function. However, add exercise to the equation and that balance begins to shift, first by increasing the concentration of electrolytes in your body and then, over time, depleting them from your blood stream. This circumstance can seriously hinder athletic performance and in extreme cases can lead to serious illness.

With so many options on the market, from Vitamin Water, to Gateroade, it can be difficult to make a good choice for a sports drink. Because so many of them are marketed as performance and so called health foods one may think that any of these popular brands would be appropriate. Look for these qualities in a sports drink and avoid the products that meet these criteria. Avoid high calories per serving, and pay particular attention to the serving size. During an hour of moderate intensity exercise most people will not need more than 120 calories. Look for sugars glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, and cereal starches. These are carbohydrate sources that are not recommended for people looking to reduce fat, maintain weight, or who are diabetic. Look carefully at the labels and avoid products with added coloring and dies. My favorite electrolyte replacement is called “want more energy” is only 35 calories a serving, is added to your water as you need it, and replaces all electrolytes. It also includes minerals which assist in absorption of the electrolytes and is all natural with no additional colors or dies.

There is also a time and place for drinks that are higher in calories and carbohydrates. Power events of short duration require rapid use of carbohydrates for fuel. For example a sprinting event, power lifting event, a race of short duration such as a 5K, as well as long endurance events all require additional carbohydrate and a drink or gel that includes electrolytes plus carbohydrates will be beneficial. If you are an endurance athlete participating in events that last more than an hour then you will need to replace carbohydrates throughout your training and racing. You will want to choose a product or combine products to replace fluids, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. It is extremely important to practice with the nutrition you will race with and recognize that it may take some time to come up with the right combination. Generally endurance athletes will choose to use gels or powder formulas for the additional calories along with electrolytes required. I highly recommend a line of products by Infinite Nutrition. They have both pre-formulated options and custom-made training and recovery products. If interested in ordering go to and use “compleat” as your discount code during check out and receive 10% off all your orders.

How do you know if you are getting enough fluids and replacing enough electrolytes? There are some very simple tests you should perform to determine this. First start by assessing your urine, is it yellow or almost clear? If it is dark yellow then you are already dehydrated. Keep in mind that when you take supplemental vitamins or eat certain foods it will change the color of your urine, so this is just a guideline. Try to get to a hydrated state before you exercise. Before you workout get on the scale and weigh yourself and then weigh yourself again after the workout. For every pound of body weight lost during exercise you need to consume 16 oz of fluid. Now look at your skin and clothing post workout. Are their white sweat marks on your clothes, are your clothes fairly damp, is your skin a little tacky or can you feel salt granules on your skin? These are all really great indicators of your sweat rate and the amount of electrolytes lost during your workout. Wet clothing means you lost a lot of water during your workout and based upon ho heavily you sweat you should consume 6-12 oz of fluid every 15-20 minutes of exercise. That amounts to a minimum of 18 ounces to maximum of 48 ounces in an hour. Now back to those nasty sweat marks. If you are salty, then you lost a lot of electrolytes and need to consume an electrolyte drink during and after exercise. Remember this does not necessarily need to be a high calorie drink, the key is to replace vital nutrients.

The key to properly fueling your body during training is to experiment with which foods in what quantities work best for your body. Consider the type of exercise, intensity, duration of exercise, time of day, when your last meal was, and your ultimate goal. Still feeling a bit at loss? Then contact me for a free nutrition and exercise consultation.

Fueling Your Body Pre-Exercise

Here are some questions my clients ask me.  Should I eat before my workout?  Is it better to exercise on an empty stomach so that I tap into my fat stores and burn them away?  I run out of energy during my workouts but have a sensitive stomach and can’t seem to figure out what works.  How much should I eat before going out for an easy jog?

If your goal is to perform well during exercise then you definitely want to eat prior to exercise.  The bottom line is that when you eat carbohydrate-rich foods before exercise, you will perform better, both mentally and physically during the workout.

If you have a sensitive stomach or find that you basically don’t feel great when you eat before exercise choose low-fiber and low-fat foods, they are easier to digest.  Also try to eat at least an hour before beginning your workout.  Avoid foods like peanut butter, cereals, bread and grains before your workout.  Both fat and fiber hold food in the stomach longer and if you have a sensitive stomach you will want to eat food that will be digested and out of your gut when you start exercise.  Some good low-fat, low-fiber options are banana, fruit salad, fresh berries, steamed non-gaseous vegetables, kefir, low fat yogurt, organic milk, soy milk or almond milk.  For those lifting weights a meal replacement shake may be appropriate such as the Isalean Shake

How much to eat is dependent on your body size, the type of exercise, intensity, duration, and ultimate goal of the exercise.  If you are exercising for fitness, at a low to moderate intensity for 60 minutes or less experiment with consuming 120 calories and see how that feels.  If the workout is very light, such as yoga, walking, or light cardio you may not need to eat.  In these cases an empty stomach may feel best or you can consider liquid calories like a half serving of 100% juice added to water, coconut water, or an electrolyte replacement drink.

What if your ultimate goal in exercising is to burn fat?  It is true that exercising on an empty stomach allows you to burn fat during exercise, but this does not necessarily translate into a reduction in body fat.  Why?  Because when you go into a workout with a low carbohydrate reserve you will feel less energetic and are likely to drop the intensity of your workout.  When you have low carbohydrate reserves generally exercise feels much harder.  Therefore if you were to get on a stationary cardio machine with low carbohydrate reserves and attempt a moderate to high intensity workout you would probably run out of fuel within 20 minutes resulting in a reduction in intensity and perhaps even total time of exercise.  But if you were working with the cardio machine and are planning for a very low intensity workout you would be more likely to sustain the intensity for up to an hour even if you had not had a meal or snack prior to exercise.  If your goal is to loose body fat you should be working at a moderate to high intensity.  In order to sustain that type of workout your body needs carbohydrate as fuel.  Therefore if you have not had a meal within approximately 2 hours you should consume a low calorie, carbohydrate rich food.  Some examples are ½ cup cooked oatmeal with some berries; whole grain bread, look for sprouted bread, along with no more than 1 Tablespoon of almond butter; or a small serving of organic yogurt with ¼ to ½ cup of fresh fruit.

If your goal is to  build muscle the pre workout meal is only a little different.  As stated before, any high intensity workout requires carbohydrate reserves for fuel.  Carbs power exercise and weight lifting, cycling, running, tennis, soccer, volleyball are all examples of high intensity workouts.  If you have not had food within 2-3 hours it is easy to blow through your glycogen stores and then your mental and physical energy will drop during your workout.  When trying to build muscle choose pre-workout meals that provide carbohydrate and a bit of protein.  Great options are hummus and raw veggies, oatmeal topped with seeds or nuts, baked sweet potato with a little cheese, slice of sprouted bread with 2 ounces of chicken or other lean meat, or snack on edemame.  I like to buy the edemame in the pod, it’s available as organic and already cooked in the frozen food sections.  The meal I am most likely to consume prior to weight training, running over one hour, or cycling over and hour is an Islean Shake which provides 23 grams of carbohoydrate (more if I add some fruit) and 23 grams of protein.

The key to properly fueling your body is to experiment with which foods in what quantities work best for your body.  Consider the type of exercise, intensity, duration of exercise, time of day, when your last meal was, and your ultimate goal.  Always keep in mind that with all exercise, except very low intensity, the purpose of the pre exercise meal is to provide the nutrition your body needs to complete the exercise for a given intensity with a particular goal in mind.  Contact me for a free nutrition and exercise consultation.