related links

Learn more about sports nutrition.

Find out how to feed your inner athlete.

Get in shape and lose weight with the FoodFit Plan.


Food and Fitness

Snacking for Your Sport
by Frances Largeman, RD

Sports bars and smoothies are the perfect way to fuel up before working out, but their convenience comes at a premium at health food stores and juice bars. Don't you wish you could make your own great tasting snacks that were actually good for you and could fuel your athletic pursuits? With some planning and a little time, you can.

Energy to Burn

Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of fuel and are what your body burns first during exercise. The storage form of glucose is glycogen and that's what becomes depleted when you're running, hiking, cycling or doing any other form of aerobic or anaerobic activity. Glycogen is stored in both the liver and in your muscles, but runs out fairly quickly. The rate at which it burns depends on the type of activity you're doing, but you can run out of glycogen as early as 30 to 45 minutes into a high intensity workout. To avoid hitting the wall, it's best to eat something about 30 minutes to an hour prior to exercise.

Don't forget to replenish those glycogen stores after workouts of two hours or longer. The best time to reload your glycogen is in the one to two hour window right after exercising, because this is the time that the body is most efficient at making glycogen. It's best to consume a snack or meal that is mostly carbohydrate immediately after your workout. This can be followed later by a mix of protein, carbohydrate and a little fat. In food terms this could translate to eating a banana and half of a bagel immediately after exercise and then a tuna or turkey sandwich or soy protein smoothie an hour or two afterwards.

Don't Forget to Water

For a routine workout up to an hour or so, water is all you need to maintain your fluid balance. Drink about eight ounces 20 minutes before your workout and take in another four ounces every 15 minutes during exercise. After working out, drink another eight-ounce glass or two to make sure you are fully rehydrated.

If you're working out for one to three hours at a time, you may want to consume a sports drink. These beverages contain sodium, which aids the body in absorbing water, and glucose, which will help to slow the depletion of energy, thus preventing "bonking". The thing to remember is that these drinks are also calorie rich, so don't consume them unless the length of your activity warrants it.

Making Your Own Sports Snacks

Our carbo-rich Apricot, Date and Nut Bars are the perfect pre-exercise snack for activity that's mostly aerobic. These tasty bars can be kept unrefrigerated in an airtight container for up to five days. Pop one in your gym bag for a quick snack before your workout— don't want to lose steam before the end of your favorite spinning class. One of these bars would be great for a quick refuel on the way home as well.

With their higher ratio of protein and fat, Protein Power Balls are overkill for an afternoon stroll, but they're perfect for more intense workouts that involve anaerobic activity or muscle breakdown. Reach for these hearty little nuggets of energy after an intense weight training or plyometric (intense and explosive exercise) workout or a day of skiing, hiking or rock climbing.

Somewhere in between the pure carb snack and the protein shot is the tried-and-true Happy Trail Mix. As its name states, trail mix is great for sustaining energy on hikes, but is also great for any activity that allows you to reach into a bag and munch. A word to the wise—only bring as much as you plan on consuming—this stuff is so tasty you're sure to snack through any amount you bring.

Great for a pre-gym breakfast or fueling up post-workout, our Banana-Berry Power Smoothie will hit the spot. Not only does it help to replenish lost fluids, but it's high in potassium, which helps to prevent muscle cramping. Ready in just five minutes, there's no excuse not to try it!

Turn your food into fuel with these delicious energy-rich recipes:

Apricot, Date and Nut Bars
217 calories, 6 grams fat, 3 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrate

Protein Power Balls
133 calories, 8 grams fat, 9 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrate

Happy Trail Mix
210 calories, 6 grams fat, 4 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrate

Banana-Berry Power Smoothie
195 calories, 1 gram fat, 21 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrate


Sign up for FoodFit's FREE newsletters

Get healthy recipes, nutrition information and fitness tips!

privacy policy Submit


FoodFit is a part of HealthCentral
© 1999- The HealthCentral Network, Inc., Copyright All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy and Terms of Use