Fuel for Peak Performance

From:National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health.

From:National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health.

Test Your Knowledge


Every spring I get questions about what to eat and drink when preparing for marathons, “fun runs” and endurance events. 

Here’s a quiz to get you thinking about optimizing fuel and hydration choices to help you feel and perform your best.   






Match the best food or beverage choice to the need:  An explanation follows.

Performance Need

____1. Recovery snack     

____2. Hydration for 45 minute workout

____3. Hydration for a half marathon or 4 hour bike event

____4. Pre-event snack (30 to 60 minutes before)

____5. Hydration for 90-minute workout

____6. Recovery meal


Food or Beverage

A. banana

B. water

C. chocolate milk

D. sports drink such as Gatorade

E. endurance sports drink

F Stir-fry with lean steak, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, almonds and brown rice



1. RECOVERY SNACK:   A. Chocolate Milk

 Chocolate milk is a popular recovery food because it has a 3 to 1 ratio of carbohydrate grams to protein grams.  Plus it is convenient, easy to drink and comes packed with other nutrients athletes need.  The best recovery response is with about 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight and 0.1 to 0.2 grams of protein per pound. For best results enjoy your recovery snack (or meal) 15 to 45 minutes after exercise.

 Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Remember to hydrate! Calculate fluid losses by weighing yourself before and after exercise and under different training conditions. Replace each pound lost with 16 to 24 ounces of fluid consumed over 1 to 3 hours.

 Other recovery snack ideas:

  • Trail mix with dried fruits and nuts or nuts and chocolate (Seek out a 3 to 1 carb to protein ratio)
  • Whole grain crackers and string cheese
  • Carrot sticks and hummus
  • Cereal and lowfat milk
  • Graham crackers, peanut butter, lowfat chocolate milk, banana
  • A nut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread with jam
  • Smoothie with 8 ounces of Greek yogurt, 2 cups of sliced strawberries, 1 cup of orange juice and a large banana

2. Hydration for 45 minute workout                   B. Water



For workouts under 60 minutes water is generally all you need for hydration.


3. endurance event  drink                       

E. endurance-specific sports drink


For an event that lasts 2 to 4 hours or longer, an endurance sports drink contains higher amounts of sodium to replace the sodium lost in sweat.  It may contain other electrolytes and 6% to 8% carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose for sustained energy.  For a work-out or event longer than one hour aim to consume 120 to 240 calories as carbohydrates (30 to 60 grams) per hour.  If going longer than 2 1/2 hours aim for 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. 


High-intensity athletes generally do best with gels, or sports drinks during exercise; athletes exercising at lower intensity for longer events can often tolerate easy-to-digest foods.

4. PRE-EVENT SNACK (30 to 60 minutes before): 

I. banana


For a workout or event under 60 to 90 minutes, a snack that is primarily carbohydrates is digested promptly and easily (compared to protein and fat).  Carbohydrates provide fuel for the working muscles.  For a workout 90 minutes or longer add some protein to the snack to help provide stamina throughout the workout.  Of course you’ll want enter your event hydrated and drink as needed and tolerated throughout your event. 

Note:  The best pre-event snack is individual so experiment to find what works best for you during training so you know what to eat on the day of your event. 


Other pre-event snack ideas:

  • Pretzels (sodium and carbs) and water
  • Smoothie with fresh fruit only or fruit and fat-free yogurt
  • Carbohydrate-rich granola bar
  • Bagel with jam

5.         Hydration for a 90 minute workout

 A sports drink like Gatorade is appropriate if you exercise for over 1 hour (or less intensely but longer time).  An 8 ounce sports drink should contain:  110-170 mg sodium, 20-50 mg potassium and 12 to 24 grams of carbohydrate.

Note that for long, intense exercise (marathon or bike race) a sports drink containing a variety of carbohydrate sources such as glucose, fructose and maltodextrins is better absorbed.

 6. RECOVERY MEAL F. Stir-Fry and Milk

This recovery meal contains complete high quality protein (milk and beef), carbohydrates (vegetables, brown rice) and electrolytes (sodium in the soy sauce, potassium in the vegetables, calcium in the milk, magnesium in the nuts, beef, rice and vegetables).  Milk offers hydration.  Water or another beverage could be included to meet hydration needs. 


Other Recovery Meal Ideas:  

  • Whole wheat pita sandwich with turkey, veggies, pretzels, lowfat milk 
  • A turkey sandwich and a couple of pieces of fruit, vegetable juice or milk
  • Rice bowl with beans, cheese, salsa, avocado plus whole grain tortilla or tortilla chips, orange juice or water

Remember – these are general guidelines. Nutrition needs vary depending on one’s age, size, gender and degree of training. Sweat rates vary considerably among individuals.  Other factors influencing needs are the sport, climate, intensity and duration of an activity. For best results, experiment with new food and beverage choices during training, not on the day of your special event or competition.



1. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 5th Edition, 2013

2. Understanding Sweat Losses, SCAN Nutrition Fact Sheet, Issue 14, January 2011 

3. Eating for Recovery. Nutrition Handout, SCAN Issue 1 April 2009

4. Practical Sports Nutrition: Thee Four R’s of Recovery.  SCAN’s Pulse, Winter 2014, Volume 33 No. 1.

5. To Get the Most Out of Your Exercise Session Consider the Nutrient Timing Program by John L. Ivy, PhD  Weight Management Matters, newsletter of the Weight Management Practice Group of the American Association of Nutrition and Dietetics,  Summer 2013.

6. Ask. For my weekend warriors….what is the latest research on protein recovery?  Food and Nutrition Magazine, Summer 2012. 

 7. An Interview with Dr. Applegate by Jesse Bassel. UC Davis Magazine.

 8. Commercially Available Sports Drinks: What to Look for, When to Consume by Judith Houdum, MMag, MSc. Scan’s Pulse Summer 2013, Vol 32. No 3.

 © 2014 Lorelle S. Del Matto

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


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