As the days get warmer and longer, you may decide to be more physically active. But before you take off on that evening bike ride or morning run, it’s important to consider your fuel and fluid sources. Too many times, inadequate or overzealous fluid intake or a suppressed appetite with rising heat and humidity can lead to a decrease in strength, speed, stamina or recovery, or diminished enthusiasm for activity.
So what are the most common fueling and hydration mistakes?
Running on Empty
If you’re finding yourself fatigued at the beginning, during or at the end of your workouts, be sure that you don’t start on empty. Having 20 ounces of fluid one hour before a workout improves strength, speed, stamina and concentration, and decreases the likelihood of fatigue that could result in subpar workouts as the week progresses.
People often focus on what they do to fuel before competition, but don’t pay as much attention to fuel and fluid before workouts. It’s important to practice pre-exercise fueling and hydration to find out what one tolerates. Doing so can also improve the quality of the workout, which may have a positive impact on performance in competition. Plan to eat something small, such as a banana, granola bar or even a fruit yogurt, one hour before strenuous physical activity.
If your goal is to decrease body fat, the solution is to gradually cut back on overall calories. That’s because drastically reducing the calories you consume can result in decreased energy and muscle mass and leave you with inadequate fuel to optimize strength, speed and stamina during workouts. Instead, make more modest changes, such drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, using less mayonnaise or salad dressing and being mindful about snack serving sizes.
Unintended Weight Gain While Increasing Activity
Generally we don’t expend a lot of calories when we exercise, and some people tend to overestimate the calories they burn or permit themselves to eat more since they exercised. A 3-mile run burns, at most, 300 calories – same as what’s in a small smoothie, large oatmeal cookie or a few handfuls of chips. If you find yourself gaining weight even though you’re exercising more, monitor what you eat to figure out where you may be able to save some calories.
Another cause of weight gain may be eating too much or drinking too many calorie-containing beverages during activity. There is a time and place for GUs, gels, chomps, chews and sports drinks, but those are for strenuous exercise in excess of one hour. For exercise that lasts longer than one hour, the recommendation is to take in an additional 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Drinking just 8 ounces of sports drink will provide 14 grams of carbs, while a GU or gel has about 30 grams. Start with consuming the smaller amount to see if that prevents fatigue and, if necessary, increase to 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour.
Waiting Too Long to Refuel
On a hot day, when you’ve had a hard workout, sometimes the idea of eating is incredibly unappealing. By the time you’ve cooled down and have an appetite, you may have missed that window of opportunity to start the recovery process, or you may find yourself absolutely ravenous.
A good option on a hot day is to cool down your refueling choices. Think slushy made with juice and ice, a frozen yogurt popsicle, yogurt with fruit added or ice-cold low-fat chocolate milk. You could also freeze your bars, or try my “Right Bites” recipe below to provide a tasty, petite, refueling option. The good news is that you don’t have to eat a big meal after working out, and a little fuel helps your muscles to recover faster.
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 1 cup dried plum bits
- 1 cup mini dark chocolate chips
- 1.5 cups dry oats
- 2 cups crispy rice cereal
- 1 cup almond butter
- 2/3 cup honey
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp grated orange peel
Coat ice cube trays with cooking spray. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine almonds, dried plum bits, chocolate chips, oats and crispy rice cereal. Mix well. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine almond butter, honey, cinnamon and grated orange peel. Microwave on high for 90 seconds or until bubbling. Remove from the microwave, stir well and add to dry ingredients. Mix until well-blended. Transfer the mixture to prepared ice cube trays and press down firmly. Put the trays in the refrigerator or freezer to set.
Yield: 40 bites
- Calories: 83
- Total Fat: 4.2 grams
- Total Carbohydrate: 11 grams
- Sugar: 6.6 grams
- Dietary fiber: 1.4 grams
- Protein: 1.6 grams
Hydrating for Heat
As it gets warmer, we lose more fluid, so it’s important to drink enough every day. If you’re a heavy sweater, you may want to try to drink more in the hours before you exercise, and stay on top of fluid intake during activity. Think juice cubes, water flavored with fruit, iced black or green tea, fruit smoothies and even cold soups like gazpacho.
Not drinking enough can lead to headaches, fatigue and diminished performance. Conversely, there are no advantages to overhydrating and that practice can be quite dangerous. So don’t feel like you have to drink a gallon of water every day. Change up your summer fluids, increase your fruit and vegetable intake and be proactive about drinking fluids.
Supplements Aren’t a Substitute for Food and Drink
Even though the idea of an energy supplement may sound easy and appealing, you can’t get energy in a pill. Supplements should not be used as a replacement for food or meals. For someone with iron deficiency or anemia, an iron supplement helps to correct the deficiency. The same is true for Vitamin D. But when it comes to proper hydration and fueling, you’ll find the answer in the refrigerator or cupboard, not the medicine cabinet.
Summer is a great time to get out and get going. Pay attention to your food and fluid choices, timing and quantity to fuel well and play on.