Supplemental nutrition may not be necessary during shorter or less-intense activity bouts. Athletes may need to eat during the activity if exertion lasts more than roughly 1 hour and/or environmental conditions require glycogen to be restored to maintain intensity and/or duration. If so, carbohydrate consumption should begin shortly after the start of exercise.
The general recommendation is based on the maximum rate of glucose absorption, which is to consume about 30-60 g of carbohydrate per hour during prolonged exercise (Rosenbloom & Coleman 2012). One popular sports-nutrition trend is to use multiple carb sources with different routes and rates of absorption to maximize the supply of energy to cells and lessen the risk of GI distress (Burd et al. 2011).
Sports drinks with 6-8% carbohydrate are quick and convenient sources of fluid, carbohydrate and electrolytes during extended bouts of exercise. Consuming 6-12 ounces of such drinks every 15-30 minutes during exercise has been shown to extend the exercise capacity of some athletes (ACSM 2007). However, athletes should refine these approaches according to their individual sweat rates, tolerances and exertion levels.
Some athletes prefer gels or chews to replace carbohydrates during extended activities. These sports supplements are formulated with a specific composition of nutrients to rapidly supply carbohydrates and electrolytes. Most provide about 25 g of carbohydrate per serving and should be consumed with water to speed digestion and prevent cramping.
To improve fitness and endurance, we must anticipate the next episode of activity as soon as one exercise session ends. That means focusing on recovery, one of the most important-and often overlooked-aspects of proper sports nutrition.
An effective nutrition recovery plan supplies the right nutrients at the right time. Recovery is the body’s process of adapting to the previous workload and strengthening itself for the next physical challenge. Nutritional components of recovery include carbohydrates to replenish depleted fuel stores, protein to help repair damaged muscle and develop new muscle tissue, and fluids and electrolytes to rehydrate.
A full, rapid recovery supplies more energy and hydration for the next workout or event, which improves performance and reduces the chance of injury. Rapid recovery is especially crucial during periods of heavy training and anytime two or more training sessions happen within 12 hours.