How do you Fuel Up?

Fit Approach is asking us to share how do we fuel up before and after workouts, a very important topic.

If you are not familiar with Fit Approach, I highly recommend you checking them out. They are behind #SweatPink, and amazing online (and real life) community of fit and fabulous (mainly) girls from all over the world. It’s a great platform to connect and find inspiration, ideas and motivation for a healthy and fit life - through the #SweatPink hashtag you can find everything from running, yoga, recipes, mommy and me health tips, to real life stories of success and challenges of finding health and fitness in everyday life.

When I began ‘seriously’ working out and training, I never paid much attention to looking at food as fuel for my body (just as fuel for my tongue). I lived in sunny, hot and humid Florida when I began training and competing in local races. I started off with 5ks, which definitely did not require that much preparation. I would happily eat a banana or a peanut butter bagel after a race, knowing the carbs and protein will help me recover better, but I never prepared in my training runs.

As I increased my mileage, and started cycling and swimming, and eventually ran triathlons and half marathons, I noticed my body craving special attention and support. Wether it was a long run or a specially hot day, I would notice my energy deteriorating during and after a workout or a race. I started working at a specialty running and triathlon store, and began learning all the magic behind training and race NUTRITION.

Which brings me to my answer to the often-asked question: How do you Fuel Up?

1. Hydration is the Key to feeling good

After hot and fast races, where I pushed myself beyond just a comfortable pace, I would suffer from terrible headaches. Only when I began implementing running-specific drinks and powders did I began to see the difference. Here are my favorite products to keep hydrated during a run/cycling.

  • Fizz or Nuun - I am not a fan of Gatorade and artificial ‘sports’ drinks. Fizz tablets are low in calories and artificial ingredients, and hold important minerals that help aid hydration. Water is often not enough because if you sweat a lot, it’s hot, or you run long, after a certain time it just passes right through you. The kidneys and liver can’t process what you are digesting or hold on to it properly. While Sodium is considered ‘unhealthy’ because it retains water, that’s exactly what you need when you are in danger of dehydration. Together with Magnesium and Potassium, it’s a perfect combo to keep you feeling good on and after a hard train/race day.

  • Coconut Water - I don’t think it needs much of an introduction. It is the best natural hydration ever, and if you can crack a fresh thai coconut and drink that delicious nectar, that would be the best! But I love Zico and Vita Coco, and always enjoy trying new brands and flavors as well (including the chocolate one that everyone hates). I like it chilled before and specially after a training or a race.

  • Amphipod Hand Held Bottle - Which is where I keep my drink on the run and in a race. I have tried every type of hydration belt, and although they were ok, I fell in love with my bottle upon a recommendation from a friend multi-Ironman finisher and winner. I use a smaller one that fits my palm perfectly, and alternate between water and fizz as needed. I always bring it to longer races as well, because I can’t drink from a cup while running, and like to avoid crowds and stopping.

  • Recovery powders - the same companies (Clif, Gu, Hammer, etc) that make fizz tablets, gels, and bars. make recovery powders to be used after a workout. They usually have more carbs and protein, hence more calories as well, and are specifically designed to replenish whatever might have been lost during your workout, going beyond just the hydration aspect. They are a good choice for long training or racing (1 to 1.5h +), but I do skip them on a daily basis. If you suffer from feeling energy lows after intense workouts, definitely give these a try.

2. Food is fuel

I personally believe hydration is often a more of a serious issue, than proper fueling, amongst most athletes, because people generally do not take their water drinking seriously (speaking from a purely by-stander perspective). However, what you eat or do not eat is extremely important for good performance. Now, you might be thinking the same thing I thought when I first heard of proper nutrition of athletes, and that is - I am no olympian or elite athlete, most races finishing is succeeding and therefore, I do not need to pay that much attention to “fuel”. I hear you. I read Runner’s World magazine and think - who has time, energy and understanding to run splits, fartleks, hills and LSD (long slow distance) on a timely schedule, with an aim to definitely shave off 30 sec/mile on their next half? I go out and run. If I finish, and in a very generic time frame, well happy me. In the same way, I do not need to hire a nutritionist, measure my protein and vitamin B12 and keep a strict eye on my body fat percentage, to run my next race. And you don’t.

However, just as I had a mini-revelation adding fizz to my drinks, with resulted in diminishing my post-race headaches and feeling better during the hot runs, in the same way adding certain nutrition help me run and feel better.

I eat and recommend a (high) plant based diet filled with minerals and vitamins, which I find more imperative for our health than protein and healthy fats, simply because we get plenty of the later. Eating well just before or after a workout is not enough, if the rest of the day your diet goes south. Here are a few specialty products I am fond of:

  • Gels and Chews for race day - These shouldn’t be your everyday meals. Gels and chews are mini energy bombs made from simple and complex carbs (and sometimes a bit of protein and supplements) to give you instant energy that is burned during your workout. I use it for races (during and before) as they are very easy to digest, and shouldn’t cause stomach issues - you have to find the one that works for you, of course, by testing them on training days. Besides in running and triathlon, they work well for fitness and cross-fit competitions, long hikes or bike rides, and days you do more than one workout or discipline that lasts long and you can’t stomach or do not have time for real food.

  • Bars - I don’t necessarily buy protein bars (with 20+ grams per serving, 10g is usually more than enough for me), but I love any Clif, Mojo, Luna, Larabar, and similar products. I can’t stomach much before a workout, so if I am feeling peckish I’ll reach for a bar. I also eat them after a workout if I have a long drive to get home or can’t reach for real food for whatever reason. They are great for traveling, and I eat them in between teaching yoga classes on a regular basis. If you can make your own bars or power balls, even better!

  • Fruit. It’s nature’s candy, as well as an energy bomb. Bananas are runner’s best buddies, and they travel well in the car/gym bag for a couple of days, same as for any fruit with a thicker peel or harder middle, like apples and oranges.

  • Smoothies - my favorite healthy fast food! I love them before or after a workout, and the best part is, these days you can get them on the go in many locations (even Starbucks if you can believe it), which makes them a great easy access health food choice. You can add your recovery or protein powder, as well as countless superfoods, and you got a nutrition bomb that will fill you up or recover all the lost energy.

This is the run down of my favorite fueling options (yes, there are quite a few) for any kinds of workouts! I hope you find something useful, or that you haven’t tried before. Either way, this hot (and maybe humid, depending on where you’re at) summer is in full swing so keep safe by hydrating and fueling properly! Although summer means more time outdoors, it can also mean more time lunging by the pool/beach, partying, eating and feeling too hot to work out. Keeping your fuel levels high means having energy to maintain your fitness routine (or kick it up a bit).

What are your fitness and fueling plans this season?