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It's unlikely your average client will need to snack during their workout routine, however, when you are working with endurance athletes or clients training for an endurance competition, fueling their body during the middle of a workout or race may be needed.
Follow along as we navigate why snacking mid-run might be needed, essential tips for snacking during training or competition, and some of our favorite mid-run snacks.
It seems like the two (eating and running) shouldn't go together. There's the possibility of choking, the potential stomachache, etc. So, why explore the need for food in the middle of a run?
Snacking mid-run is typically only recommended for long (60+ minutes) workouts and competitions. If a client has a healthy, balanced diet, it's unlikely their workouts or races shorter than 60 minutes will require them to consume anything more than water. However, once the workout surpasses 60 minutes, 30-60 grams of carbohydrate (carbs) per hour is generally recommended (can be up to 60-90 g/h after 150 minutes of exercise). But, keep in mind the energy needs and fueling strategy can vary by individual, sport, etc. (1).
When carbohydrates are consumed, the body breaks them into glucose, which is a form of sugar the body uses for energy. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose. The body stores glycogen in the muscles and liver. As glycogen depletes, carbohydrates become an important part of training and competition to provide the energy needed to perform.
There are endless snack options for athletes. However, when helping clients select what is best for their running fuel, there are a few things they will want to consider:
Eat healthily and drink water beforehand: The pre-run meal should be balanced so the body is fueled and hydrated before the workout or race begins.
Consider convenience: Foods that are not messy, fairly small and light, and easy to carry are ideal.
Be cautious of choking: Choosing snack options that don't require much chewing can be helpful for the athlete on the go.
Don't overdo it: The last thing a client wants is a stomachache mid-run. They should be fueling not eating a meal.
Pay attention to cost: Some custom options (drinks, gels, bars, etc.) can be convenient and effective but the cost can add up if several are needed during the training period and competition.
Train with the same snacks used on race day: It can be risky to train using one type of snack and then switch it up on race day. The modification can cause some clients to have stomach issues that are not ideal for competition.
Choose simple carbs/high glycemic foods: Although complex carbohydrates are often recommended for overall health, during training and performance, the sugar needs to get into the bloodstream quickly so the body can use it.
Don't forget about water: Hydration is essential before, during, and after training or competition.
When a client needs to eat mid-workout, they will want to stay away from foods that take longer to digest (proteins, fats, high fiber foods, etc.). The best sources of food are simple carbs that can be digested and enter the bloodstream quickly. There are many simple carbs to choose from, however, running and eating can be a recipe for choking so we're sharing our favorite practical mid-run snacks.
Okay, so water isn't actually a snack, but it is one of the most important things your clients should consume during their run. Dehydration can affect both health and performance. Water plays a role in temperature regulation, joint lubrication, and several other internal processes. Staying hydrated is essential to keep the body functioning properly, especially during long workouts because the body can lose quite a bit of water during exercise (2) (3).
Keep in mind, it's critical to start the workout hydrated. So, although mid-run water is also important, ensure your clients' pre-workout hydration is adequate as well!
Water, glucose, and electrolytes are reduced in the body during intense or long bouts of exercise. Sports drinks can help replenish all three (3).
Similar to sports drinks, coconut water contains electrolytes. One study's results suggest coconut water is just as effective at rehydrating the body as sports drinks. Coconut water has become more popular over the last several years and some people prefer it because it's a more natural option than an artificial sugary sports drink (4).
This type of snack is made specifically for endurance athletes needing fuel during their training and competitions (marathons, triathlons, etc.). There are a variety of different brands and flavors, but they are a little package of sugary liquid gel that's easy to carry and easy to digest. Gels typically have electrolytes in them as well.
Similar to sports gels, honey is effective, portable (can be purchased in little single packets), and lightweight. The sugar enters the bloodstream quickly. Plus, it's a natural food with antioxidants as a bonus.
Although this fruit isn't very portable, if there is access to bananas during a race or training, they can be a great option for clients. They're inexpensive, natural, and can provide some quick energy for the body.
Baby food can be an inexpensive, tasty, and portable snack. The packaging makes it easy to carry and the pureed texture helps make it easy to digest so the carbs can quickly fuel the body.
Check out ISSA's Nutritionist Specialization. You'll explore the importance of nutrients, learn how to navigate and implement behavior change, and unravel diet myths so you can master your nutrition.
Vitale K, Getzin A. "Nutrition and supplement update for the endurance athlete: review and recommendations." Nutrients. 2019;11(6):1289
Shaw, G. "Water Tips for Efficient Exercise." 2009. Webmd.com. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/water-for-exercise-fitness#2
Orrù, Stefania, et al. "Role of Functional Beverages on Sport Performance and Recovery." Nutrients vol. 10,10 1470. 10 Oct. 2018.
Kalman, Douglas S et al. "Comparison of coconut water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink on measures of hydration and physical performance in exercise-trained men." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 9,1 1. 18 Jan. 2012.