Basic Framework for Fueling Activity

I love the simple nutrition framework of eating before, during, and after activity is one tool in the toolbox for optimizing the body for more fun in whatever athletic adventure awaits! Whether hiking, climbing, running, sking or anything in between considering what to eat before, during, and after can mean more energy to do the “thing” and better recovery to do the thing again!

Looking at the table you will see that there are ranges. These ranges help people to adapt what to eat based on moving time. Going out for a sixty-minute bike ride won’t require much eating during the activity because the body has enough stored on board. It does, however, require consideration of eating a meal about three to four hours before to ensure energy storage is topped off and recovery is primed. When returning from an hour of activity, a small snack will suffice.

Planning on being out there for more than one hour requires some carbohydrates during a ride to stay fueled and prime the pump for utilizing fat as fuel. My approach is to start at the low end of thirty grams and adjust as my body demands. Protein is not the most efficient fuel source during activity but, when the carbohydrate won’t go down anymore it can be used. Protein and fat eaten during activity can do a number on the stomach, too. I sometimes recommend a little protein in the form of jerky or nuts just to break up flavor and give the pallet something else to knaw on.

The biggest concerns people seem to have about fueling with simple sugars – the simplest and most quickly available carbohydrate sources – is that they 1) Will upset their stomach or 2) Sugar is “bad” for you.

If a person is dehydrated, sugar is going to be tough to tolerate. My rule of thumb with GI distress is, solve for dehydration then talk sugar. Following the approximate hydration guide above can help with hydration but, to really know how much to drink during different activities and temperatures, one would have to determine their individual sweat rate (topic for another day). Too much sugar at one time during activity can also mess up the stomach. It is a common mistake for people to miss out on fueling early in the activity and then trying to make up for it with three gels at once! Ouch. That will definitely not sit will on a stomach that it is already sacrificing blood flow so the muscles get more. Spread those gels, drink and chews out and start fueling early!

Now, too much sugar is a problem if you are sitting on your butt sucking down a movie-theater-sized soda but, when you are trying to fuel activity it is a different story. The sugar you consume will be burned within five to ten minutes to be used immediately by the working muscles. Use it sparingly and mix up the types of sugar to include a combo of fructose, glucose, and sucrose for the best energy outcome, or output rather.

What about eating fruit during activity? Isn’t that a carbohydrate? Fruit contains the fruit sugar, fructose. Fructose alone is tough for the stomach to tolerate but, in the presence of glucose, it seems to be a good combo energy source. Fruit, however, also contains fiber that the stomach must break down so eating whole pieces of fruit during activity could cause some digestive distress. Fruit puree blended with cane sugar or honey blended with cane sugar is good examples of a fructose with sucrose or glucose option.

So like carbohydrate during activity, I am going to dose out the rest of the information in my chart above over the next few weeks. Check back for more on beets, caffeine, creatine. protein, sweat rate, fructose, and recovery!

This entry was posted in: Nutrition


Nutrition Strategist and Registered Dietitian with twenty years of experience creating nutrition strategies that influence and inspire people to accomplish big things.