Many people enjoy long-distance endurance sports or exercise. At this time of year the crisp air sets the perfect tone for relishing the outdoors. Snowflakes may be drifting through the sky as well, but rain is more likely. Running, biking and cross-country skiing can be sustained for long periods of time but also require a lot of fuel for the body. It’s important to know what kinds of foods to eat, and when, in order to perform your best each time you lace up your shoes or boots and head out the door. If you have ever experienced the sensation of “hitting the wall” you can appreciate the importance of making sure the body’s gas tank is full, and you know how to refuel, before hitting the course. Timing meals and snacks appropriately and eating the right kinds of foods can also potentially alleviate some of the gastrointestinal symptoms that many endurance amateur athletes experience.


Here, we discuss fueling using carbohydrates as our main fuel source. However, there is increasing evidence and a trend toward using fat as fuel in a ketogenic diet. The first and second place winners of the 2016 Tour de France biking event were on a ketogenic diet. Watch for news on this in future blogs.

Tip #1 – Eat regularly timed meals and snacks – about 3 hours apart – normally. Two to three hours before a long, hard workout, plan to have a meal, but not too large. This ensures that the meal will be mostly digested by the time you are ready to head out the door, resulting in less GI distress during your workout.

Tip #2 – Your pre-workout meal should be moderate in carbs but also with protein. A mixed veggie stir fry with tofu, chicken, or scrambled egg over brown rice is an excellent option. Brown rice or quinoa could also be combined with an avocado and tofu or an egg. Eating carbohydrate-containing foods that are digested gradually promotes sustained fuel availability during exercise. This means a decreased chance of crashing or hitting the wall during a workout because fuel runs out. The days of the “carb loading” recommendation are over, this has not shown to enhance performance.  Instead, focus on a balanced meal with complex carbohydrates, protein and a little fat. (If you need to eat a meal less than two hours before your workout, choose easily digested carbs and protein (low fat) like a smoothie, oatmeal or a whole grain PB&J.)

Tip #3 – If it’s been longer than an hour or two since your last meal, plan a carbohydrate pre-workout snack to be eaten 20 minutes prior, or as close as you can tolerate, to your competition or long run. Bananas are a good source of carbohydrates and in addition they are relatively low in fiber. Oranges, apples, or dried fruits are good seasonal choices as well. A small amount of peanut or almond butter may be added for some protein.

Tip #4 – If you are working out for more than one hour at a relatively intense rate, fuel during exercise with some carbs like fruit, a fruit smoothie, coconut water or a carb bar that is designed for exercise.

Tip #5 – Refuel within an hour of finishing a workout, ideally within the first 15-30 minutes. This is the time when the body is busy refilling its reserves of fuel. The body stores a limited amount of carbohydrates in the muscle and liver in the form of a molecule called glycogen. This is the source of fuel that the body pulls from first during exercise. In the process of breaking down glycogen, some muscle protein gets broken down or damaged as well. By eating a healthy, high-carb snack within 15-20 minutes of finishing, with a little protein right after exercise, you enhance your body’s ability refill its reserves and rebuild muscle.  A fruit smoothie with some protein, whole grain toast with nut butter and bananas or eggs with roasted sweet potatoes are all great options. Then have a complete meal with a healthier dose of protein about 45 minutes after finishing the exercise.

Tip #6 – Don’t forget to hydrate! Drinking fluid and replenishing electrolytes are just as important during the cooler months, even though you may not feel as hot. In general, adults need to drink (or eat as a lot of fluids are in foods) approximately 2.5 liters of fluid per day to replace losses. Exercise increases fluid loss, mainly in the form of sweat, which requires additional fluid intake. A simple way to gauge fluid loss from exercise is by weighing yourself before and after a workout. For each pound of body weight lost during exercise you should drink 16-24 ounces of fluids within 2 hours to rehydrate and get back on track. Plain water is great, but it doesn’t replenish electrolytes. Drinking coconut water (not too much though, it’s pretty high in sugar) or adding clean ingredient electrolyte tablets (try Nuun, available at grocery stores ) to your water are good post-workout alternatives to commercial electrolyte-containing sports drinks.

Best of luck in your training this fall and enjoy providing your body with delicious whole foods to fuel its performance. Your muscles will be happy and hopefully so will your tummy!

Edited by Flannery, Bastyr Intern


By Arlene Semeco, MS, RD |. “Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout.” RSS 20. N.p., 04 Oct. 2016. Web. 05 Nov. 2016.

By Arlene Semeco, MS, RD |. “Post-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After a Workout.” RSS 20. N.p., 20 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 Nov. 2016.