Your body needs fuel for being active

Whether you are a competitive athlete just enjoy being active, your body needs fuel and water to be at it’s best. Read on for guidelines on when and what to eat and drink, depending on what you’re doing and how long you’re doing it. These guidelines both help your to perform at your best, and help you to be safe as you are having fun in the sun.

Meet with a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist (RDN) to develop a nutrition plan that meets your specific needs. The RDN will look at your body size, lifestyle and sports goals to help you develop a fuel and hydration plan that fits you! Book A Consultation Online

Check out this website for some quick facts about sports nutrition:


DRINK! There is nothing more important than keeping your body hydrated when you are active. Depending on how long you are active you may need to drink fluid along with electrolytes and carbohydrates. These can be in the fluid or in food that you eat with the fluids.

Basic needs when you are NOT active–Meet these ALL the time:

  • Drink fluids with each meal and drink water in between meals to be well hydrated all day long.
    • Anything that is liquid at room temperature counts
      • Water, coffee, tea, juice, popsicles, sorbet, jello….
        • It is an old wives tale that coffee and tea dehydrate you, they can count toward your fluid needs!
    • Our needs vary with body size, bigger people need more liquid to stay hydrated, smaller people and children need less.
    • Needs increase when we are in hot temperatures
  • Bottom line: You know you are well hydrated if your urine is clear or pale yellow.

Increased Fluid for exercise or sports:

  • First and foremost: Make sure you are meeting your basic fluid needs (see above)!
    • Drink extra fluid a few hours before you start your work out or race (1 to 1 1/2 ounces for every 10 lbs body weight)
      • If you weigh 150 lbs, you need to drink 15 to 23 ounces.
        • Any fluid will do, even including some coffee or tea.
          • A small amount of caffeine can actually help with sports performance
    • If you are doing anything for more than 1 hour, you need to also drink as you go!
      • Drink 1 1/2 to 3 cups fluid per hour of activity–you may need even more if it is very hot out!
        • You are drinking enough if your weight stays the same or drops less than 2% from before to after your activity.
          • Try weighing yourself before and after a long workout to see if you are drinking enough.
    • Replace fluids that you have lost after exercise!
      • For every pound you have lost, you need to drink 1 1/2 pounds or 24 ounces of water over the next couple hours.


  • You need to replace the water AND salt that you loose in sweat!

    • If we drink plain water while doing a long activity (more than 2 hours), we risk lowering our blood sodium which can be very dangerous–the longer we exercise and the more we sweat, the more important it is to replace electrolytes.
    • We can get electrolytes from food as well as drinks like sports drinks, coconut water or diluted fruit juice with a small amount of salt added.
      • A sports drink is formulated to keep your electrolytes in balance as you do your activity.
        • Gatorade®, or Powerade ® are two of the many sports drinks on the market. These come with and without sugar and have about 100 mg sodium per 8 fluid ounces.
        • You can make your own sports drink!
          • 13 ounces 100% fruit juice mixed with 19 ounces water to make 1 quart. Add just a pinch of salt (between 1/8 and 1/4 teaspoon).
        • Coconut water varies in electrolyte and sugar content, but is a much better choice than plain water while doing a prolonged activity (it has about 2/3 as much sodium and chloride and the same amount of sugar as a standard sports drink).
  • If you are doing an activity where you can stop and have a snack at least once an hour (e.g., kids’ soccer games, or a hike), you do not need to drink a special sports drink!

    • Drink water throughout the activity.
    • Eat snacks that give you some salt
      • salted nuts or sunflower seeds, crackers, sandwich, cheese, granola bar, sardines and crackers, trail mix



  • Carbs give you energy to make your muscles work.

    • Carbs are in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, milk and yogurt as well as sweets, juices and sodas.
  • Your body uses carbs as well as fat for fuel while you are active
    • The more intense or fast the activity, the more carbs you use.
      • Slower activities (e.g. hiking, walking, a casual bike ride) use more fat than carbs.
        • This fat comes from our fat stores.
    • When we run out of carbs, we cannot continue to move at a fast or intense pace.
      • This is what happens when a marathon runner “hits the wall”; they just can’t keep running at their usual pace.
  • Fueling with carbohydrates for long activities (a several hour activity like a marathon run or long swim or bike ride)

    • Eat a high carbohydrate meal 3 to 4 hours before your work out or race.

      • Good pre-workout meals–we want these very high in carbs and moderate in fat and fiber to prevent cramping or bloating during our workout or event:
        • French toast or pancakes with syrup and fruit + a glass of milk and/or a cup of coffee/tea
        • Oatmeal cooked with nuts and raisins and topped with milk and brown sugar + a piece of fruit and a glass of milk, juice, or water, or cup of coffee/tea.
        • Pasta with meat sauce and french bread + a small green salad with dressing + a glass of milk, juice or water or coffee/tea.
        • Eggs with potatoes and toast + fruit and a glass of milk, juice, or water or a cup of coffee/tea.
        • Whole sandwich + fruit + a bag of chips + a glass of milk, juice,or water or a cup of coffee/tea.
    • Eat carbs that are low in fiber and fat in the hour or two just before our work out or event.

      • Banana and graham crackers and juice
      • Smoothie made with fruit, juice and yogurt or milk.
    • If you are going to work out right after you get up in the morning, eating or drinking about 30 gm carbohydrate may improve your performance.

      • Banana
      • 1 cup of apple sauce
      • 1 cup of fruit juice
    • Eat or drink carbs as you go!

      • The combination of  a high carbohydrate pre-event meal plus carbohydrates during an event have been shown to result in the best performance.
      • Drink about 1 quart per hour of a sports drink (50 gm carbohydrate), or drink 1 quart water and eat 1-2 gel packets (25-30 gm carbohydrate  each + electrolytes per packet)
      • Increase carbs per hour during workouts or events that last 3 or more hours.
    • Carbohydrate “loading” for long events or workouts.

        • Eating a very high carbohydrate diet and tapering training for 1 to 3 days prior to an endurance event will increase glycogen (carbohydrate) stores and help improve performance.
        • Tapering training, or having  1-2 rest days prior to the event will increase the benefits of a very high carbohydrate diet.


Legumes and beans are high in soluble fiber.  

  • Protein is essential for maintaining or building our muscles–most of us, even athletes eat more than we need!.

    • The Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is 0.8 gm protein per kilogram of body weight (0.36 gm protein per pound of body weight).
    • Daily protein needs for an athlete, or anyone trying to increase muscle mass needs anywhere from 1.2 gm/kg or 0.5 gm/lb (most casual athletes) to 2 gm/kg or 0.9 gm per pound (body builders or weight lifters)
  • It is important to spread our protein intake over 3 meals and 1-3 snacks each day.

      • We use protein in small amounts (up to 30 gm) at one time to build muscle.
        • A lot of the protein from one very high protein meal ends up being used to make sugar and fat, rather than to build muscle.
      • Protein is best used to build muscle when it is eaten in a mixed meal that includes carbohydrate and fat.
      • Aim for about 30 gm protein per meal, and if you need more than 90 gm protein/day, 10-30 gm protein per snack.
        • Meal ideas: check out recipes on this website!
        • Quick idea: 1 large baked chicken thigh + 1 cup broccoli, sauteed in oil and garlic + baked sweet potato + 1-2 cups fresh fruit salad
    • Eat protein in a meal or a snack with carbohydrates within an hour of a workout or event to help rebuild muscles that breakdown during exercise.

      • Aim for about 4 grams carbohydrate for every 1 gm protein.
        • A balanced meal or one of the following snacks will provide this.
          • 1/2 sandwich on whole grain bread (peanut butter and jam, cheese, turkey or other meat)
          • Flavored yogurt or 1 cup plain regular yogurt or 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt mixed with 1 cup berries
          • 1 cup chocolate milk, 1 cup milk blended with 1/2 to 1 cup fruit, or 1 cup milk + a piece of fruit


  •  20 to 35% of our calories should come from fat.

    • On workout days, when you are eating more carbohydrates, the proportion of fat in your diet will be about 20% of your total calories.
    • On your less active days the proportion of fat in your diet will be more like 30-35% of your total calories.
    • You want to add some fat to your meals and snacks, but you do not need to eat very fatty foods like deep fried foods, French fries, or cream sauces.
      • Try to make most of your fats “heart healthy”; use more liquid oils and less solid fat (e.g., butter, fatty meats).  Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease: Part 3 FATS
      • Use oils in cooking, vinaigrette dressings on salads, mayonnaise on sandwiches.
      • Eat nuts and seeds, avocado and fatty fish on a regular basis.
    • Do not eat high fat foods in the last hour or two before a workout or race.

      • Fats are digested and absorbed more slowly than carbohydrates or protein, so high fat foods stay in your stomach longer.
        • This can make you feel full and sluggish during your activity.
        • Fats in your post workout or race meal or snack are fine.

Bottom line: Pay attention to how you feed and water your body for activity. It will pay off!

Information for this post came from: SPORTS NUTRITION A HANDBOOK FOR PROFESSIONALS, 6th edition, edited by Christin Karpinski PhD, RDN, CSSD, LDN and Christin A Rosenbloom, PhD,  CSSD, FAND; published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietitics, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition Dietetics Practice Group, 2017
Stay tooned! My next blog post will be on keeping our kids fueled and hydrated for summer fun!