Food For Fuel: Sustaining Energy During Endurance Exercise

The FIFA World Cup is down to a few remaining teams and soccer fever is in full swing!  Fans from around the world are gathering to see which country comes out on top.  Yet, regardless of which teams are eliminated during the upcoming games, there is no denying that the strength, commitment, and endurance of all World Cup athletes is inspiring. 

Maintaining energy and strength during a tournament is not easy.  Here's some advice on how you can eat right to stay energized during endurance exercise, whether it be a marathon, swimming, or your own soccer tournament.

Pre-Workout: Eating to Fuel the Body

For athletes, a well-balanced meal or snack prior to exercise can help fuel the body, reduce early onset fatigue (so you can work out longer and burn more calories, if that's your goal), and speed up post-workout recovery. 

A pre-workout meal should be rich in carbohydrates, which serve as the body's main source of energy.  A pre-workout meal should also consist of a moderate amount of lean protein, which plays a key role in building and repairing tissue, including muscles.  Keep fat and fiber to a minimum to ensure ease of digestion.  Eating familiar foods will also help decrease the chance of any digestive problems.  Find what works best for you - experiment with different foods and drinks to determine your ideal pre-exercise meal.

Try These Pre-Exercise Meal Ideas:
- Turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich with a side of fruit
- Oatmeal with a sprinkle of brown sugar, almonds, skim milk, and a banana
- Fruit and yogurt smoothie with low-fat granola

During a Workout: Eating to Maintain Energy

Eating during endurance exercise can sometimes be tricky, since you're on the move. To maintain adequate energy levels throughout a game or race, precise proportions of fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes are crucial.  Eating too many carbohydrates or not drinking enough fluids may result in cramping, fatigue, or impaired performance.  Water requirements during a workout depend on the length and intensity of the workout, as well as the weather conditions.  A good rule of thumb is to drink enough fluids (such as water, sports beverages, etc.) to replenish water lost from sweat - the more you sweat, the more fluids you should drink. Food may also be necessary during extended endurance events.  Be sure to carry a lightweight sports bottle for liquids and portable, single-portion snacks that can be consumed during a short running break or on the sidelines at a game. Easily digested carbohydrate-rich foods, such as a banana or a granola bar, can help re-energize your body.  Again, you should experiment with different combinations of foods and fluids to determine what works best for you.

Try these convenient foods and beverages during exercise:
- An energy bar
- A banana
- A sports drink containing carbs and electrolytes

Post-Workout: Eating for Recovery

It seems obvious that you should fuel your body before and during exercise, but proper nutrition after exercise is just as critical.  Eating the right foods after a workout can help you build muscle and speed up the recovery process.  This is especially important when playing in a tournament, such as the World Cup.  Replenish the body with fluids and electrolytes, restore glucose levels, and provide protein for muscle repair after a workout by eating a well-balanced meal or snack within 15 minutes to 1 hour following a workout.

Try these post-workout meal options:
- Stir-fry with lean steak, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, and brown rice
- A whole-wheat pita filled with sliced turkey meat and veggies, a side of pretzels, and a glass of low-fat chocolate milk

Whether you're training for the next World Cup or playing for your local sports team, remember to properly fuel your body before, during, and after a workout to help optimize your performance.

What do you eat to get ready for a big game?

By: Kerry Robinson, RD and Jennifer Arougheti (Undergraduate Dietetic Student and IFIC Foundation Intern)