Exercise sessions lasting 30-90 minutes can be performed without the need for additional carbohydrate intake. You have enough energy stored in your body to last the duration. If your goal is to maintain or lose weight, additional carbohydrate in the form of sports drinks, gels or food should certainly be avoided.
Maintaining your hydration is the priority during exercise lasting less than 90 minutes. Feelings of thirst will impair your ability to maintain exercise intensity and dehydration can cause headaches, gastrointestinal problems, cramp and a decline in performance. Dehydration can also increase the your levels of stress hormones which limit your ability to recover and adapt to the training stimulus.
Pre-exercise food and fluid requirements
As long as you have eaten some food containing carbohydrate 2-3 hours before exercise, you may only need a small carbohydrate based snack 60-90 minutes before your session to stave off hunger. Good choices include:
A useful way to monitor your hydration status is to check the colour of your urine. If it is dark in colour, you need to drink more fluid. If it is light in colour you are hydrated and can continue with your normal drinking habits.
To ensure you are well hydrated for your session, and you don’t have a stomach full of fluid sloshing about, drink 300-500ml of water or squash 2 hours before your session. This allows sufficient time for your body to get rid of any excess fluid.
During-exercise food and fluid intake
During exercise, your fluid intake will be dependent on a number of variables such as climate, intensity of session, clothing worn and access to drinks. It is easy to remember to drink in hot conditions but be aware that sweat losses can be high, even in winter months when you are wearing lots of layers.
Sip fluid little and often throughout training. Do not gulp your drink. You should aim to avoid feelings of thirst, and as long as you have started your session well hydrated using the strategy above, a couple of mouthfuls of your drink every 10-15min will ensure you avoid excess dehydration.
Water or squash is sufficient for low intensity sessions up to 90 minutes.
Post-exercise food and fluid intake
Effective recovery is crucial when you are training regularly. If you are not exercising again until the following day, your focus should be on rehydration and eating a healthy balanced meal containing some carbohydrate, protein and plenty of vegetables within 2 – 3 hours of finishing your session. You are better off waiting to eat a healthy balanced meal than relying on sugary snacks and recovery products to eat straight after your session. There is no requirement for you to refuel straight away. Good choices include:
After exercise the fluid required to replaces losses should ideally be consumed within 2 hours to ensure that optimal hydration is achieved. Start rehydrating by consuming 400 – 600ml of fluid over the 2 hours after your session. Try and start drinking before you start eating your meal. Water and squash are appropriate choices.
If you are unable to eat a meal within 2 hours of finishing your session, eat a snack containing some carbohydrate and protein within an hour of finishing. This snack should be pre-planned to ensure you stick to your nutritional goals. Good food choices include: