What to eat and drink during exercise

Depending on the intensity and duration of your session, you may need to top up on extra fluids and carbohydrates during exercise. Keep reading to find out what you should eat and drink during exercise.

The advice below is generalised for the recreational exerciser. Specific nutrition requirements will differ depending on the level of intensity and duration of physical activity.

If the exercise session is less than 60 minutes or 90 minutes at a low intensity, you won’t need extra fuel to keep you going. In contrast, if the exercise session is more than 60 to 90 minutes, it’s a good idea to top up on a rich source of carbohydrate to fuel the remainder of your session. Once consumed, the carbohydrates will be broken down into glucose to provide your brain and muscles with extra fuel, allowing you to sustain the intensity and the quality of the activity.

Similar to pre-exercise nutrition, carbohydrate-rich foods consumed during exercise should be low in fibre, easy to digest (i.e. not too high in fat) and sit comfortably in your stomach. There is no one size fits all approach to this – see what works best for you and your goals. You also need to consider the practicality of consuming food during the session.

Carbohydrate-rich snack ideas

  • A piece of fruit – e.g. a banana, a few fresh dates; or
  • A basic sandwich with a thin spread (e.g. jam, honey, peanut butter or vegemite); or
  • A muesli bar; or
  • If necessary, a sports carbohydrate gel or energy bar

Hydration during exercise is extremely important. With that said, each person’s fluid needs are different. Consider your sweat losses during the session, which may also be dependent on the temperature and humidity. If you feel like you need to replace sweat losses, drink fluids to ensure you maintain hydration throughout the session. Avoid becoming dehydrated. Water should be the drink of choice for most people. If water isn’t enough, sports drinks are an option when you need to ingest both carbohydrates and fluids at the same time.

If you are competing, test your nutrition and hydration strategies for the duration of the event before race day. This is important in ensuring they work for you and are appropriate to consume while competing. Trialling the types and timing of foods and fluids during training and practise sessions will help maximise your performance on race day. For personalised and tailored sports nutrition advice, find an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you.

After reading this article, we hope you have a better idea of what to eat and drink during exercise. Stay tuned for next weeks nutrition article!

Written by Carly Booth, Accredited Practising Dietitian from Nutrition Australia Qld. Nutrition Australia QLD is a non-profit, community nutrition organisation that provides education, support and training to shape the health and wellbeing of our community to make informed food choices.

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