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The Basics of Exercise Nutrition

BY Nick Suffredin

Having the right nutrition strategy can greatly impact your race or workout. Here, sports nutrition expert Nick Suffredin lays out the basics to start fueling correctly.

There are some basic principles when formulating a plan for race success when it comes to nutrition.  It’s fairly simple to do, however, it can involve a lot of trial and error. Each athlete is different as is each type of competition (cycling, running, triathlon, etc.). Different distances and durations require different fueling plans. How you fuel for a 5K should be very different from how you fuel for a marathon.

As an athlete, you need to focus on the duration and intensity of your competition. This will help you determine what type of fueling your body will need to perform at an optimal level. Below are general guidelines to help determine a starting point for your race.

Fueling Needs for Exercise

  • For exercise less than 45 minutes: No carbohydrates are typically needed, but be sure to maintain your hydration and to fuel yourself with some carbohydrates post-exercise.
  • For exercise lasting 1 to 2 hours: Up to 30-60g/hour of carbohydrates, or approximately 240 calories/hour. If you are fueling with gels or solids, be sure to follow consumption with appropriate amount of water.
  • For exercise lasting 2 or more hours: Up to 60-75g/hour carbohydrates, or approximately 300 calories/hour. Maintaining proper nutritional balance is vital when exercising at this duration.  Knowing not to overfill your stomach to find that right balance will really help you improve your performance not only in training but in races as well.

Sweat Loss

Fueling is one part of the equation formulate a successful nutrition plan. The other key element is being able to mitigate your sweat loss. Every athlete’s sweat rate is different. Your sweat rate depends on your body size, exercise intensity, climate (temperature, wind, etc.), physical fitness, clothing, gender, and how you acclimated to your current conditions you are exercising in. If you do not know your sweat rate use the below equation and instructions to determine a good estimate of what your fluid loss is. This would be good for those wanting to double check theirs in any temperature.

Calculating Your Sweat Rate

There is a simple way for you to calculate your sweat rate. To begin, record your nude body weight prior to exercising. When you are finished exercising, dry yourself off the best you can and record your nude body weight again. Record what and how much you consumed of fluids during your exercise. Subtract your pre-exercise weight from your post-exercise weight and add the amount of fluid you consumed to that number. This will give you the amount of fluid you lost while exercising. Then you need to divide that number by the amount of hours you exercised for and that will equal your sweat rate. Be sure to record the weather conditions as well. This will help you determine how your sweat rate fluctuates in different temperature ranges. Use the list below to calculate your sweat rate.

1. ________ Record your nude body weight prior to exercise.

2. ________ Record your nude body weight (dry off best you can before recording weight) after exercise (convert weights to ounces; 1 lb = 16 oz).

3. ________ Record how much fluid you consumed during exercise (use ounces).

4. ________ Subtract lines 1 & 2 from above for total weight loss and add line 3. This is the amount of fluid your body lost while exercising.

5. ________ Take the number from line 4 and divide it by how many hours you exercised for. This will give you an idea of what your sweat rate is.

Nutrition plays a key role in your everyday life and especially during training and racing. By targeting your calories per hour with mostly carbohydrates and consuming fluids to mitigate your sweat loss with some added electrolytes, you have a starting point to work from. Take the time to find what works best for you, so you can perform your workouts and races at your highest level.

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About Nick Suffredin

Nick Suffredin is a former scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute where he worked on testing elite professional athletes to enhance their hydration practices and nutrition intake to improve their performance. Currently, Nick provides fueling and hydration strategies working with D3 Multisport.