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The Inside Scoop on Sport Nutrition

By Marni Sumbal

foodLife changes frequently, as does your triathlon training routine. Your eating routine should also change to allow you to be as consistent as possible with your active and healthy lifestyle. In order to receive the most prominent physiological adaptations to the body with the least amount of training stress, learn to appreciate food for fuel.

What is sport nutrition?
Sport nutrition is the nutrition around your workout which includes what you consume before, during and after you exercise. Sport nutrition can include anything from a piece of toast with peanut butter before a workout to sport drinks, energy gels, supplements and recovery drinks during and after a workout. Although you may feel as if your body doesn’t need sport nutrition at certain times, it’s important to appreciate the need for a basic fueling regime. To boost the immune system, speed up recovery, provide energy, reduce fatigue and maintain stamina, sport nutrition will help you train harder to reach performance gains on a more consistent basis.

Sport nutrition foundation of fueling:
Depending on your workout intensity and duration, consider a basic foundation for fueling that prioritizes fluids as your primary hydration strategy. To assist in nerve and muscle functioning, blood pressure, hydration, digestion, pH balance and damaged tissue repairing, electrolytes (ex. sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, sodium bicarbonate) are needed when your active body is trying to adapt to training stimuli. Electrolytes go hand-in-hand with carbohydrates for the more intense and longer the workout (ex. over an hour), the greater the need to keep the muscles and brain fueled with energy. Lastly, consider any additional calories beyond your liquid carbohydrates as tummy satisfiers; when you meet your fluid, electrolyte and carbohydrate needs, additional calories may not assist in giving energy but may help to keep you feeling satisfied throughout your endurance (2+ hour) training sessions.

1) Fluids – 20-28 ounces/hour for all workouts. Consume frequently ~10-15 minutes.
2) Electrolytes – Compare products to obtain a full spectrum of electrolytes, in addition to sodium and potassium.
3) Carbohydrates – 30-60g/hour (~120-240 calories). If needing 60-90g/hour (240-360 calories), opt for a maltodextrin + fructose combination drink to digest and absorb more than 1g per minute of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be found in sport drinks and energy gels.
4) Calories – Consider adding 30-50 calories per hour of chews, gummies, and pieces of sport bar or solid food to keep the tummy happy – if needed. Liquid calories (sport drinks or gels mixed with water) are your top priority to meet your fluid, electrolyte and carbohydrate needs and to ensure proper digestion and absorption to give you energy.

A few sport nutrition considerations

Sport nutrition products (ex. sport drinks and gels) are designed to match the needs of most athletes. There is no perfect product. Depending on your fitness level, current diet, training/racing intensity and duration and flavor preferences, consider finding what works best for you. If you feel overwhelmed, consult a RD who specializes in sport nutrition to help you plan your fueling regime alongside helping you meet your body composition and/or performance goals.

Also, you can’t blame everything on sport nutrition and expect a no-fail nutrition regime 100 percent of the time. Depending on your fitness level, terrain, weather, intensity, duration, body size, sweat rate, nerves, stress and daily diet, don’t expect a perfect race day fueling plan to help you run 7 minute miles off the bike in an Ironman if you haven’t trained your body to do so.


Additionally, every athlete should be open to experimentation in training to understand what may work the best on race day. It’s not about avoiding nutrition-relation problems on race day but also knowing how to deal with those issues when they occur. Your nutrition before, during & after training is only as good as your ability to tolerate, digest and absorb the nutrients found in the products/food.

Sport nutrition take-home messages

  1. Always work your way up in nutrition to discover what works or doesn't work. It is not suggested to make yourself bonk during training so allow yourself to progress slowly, over time to discover how much and what you need to perform consistently well (in various workouts) and to recover quickly from training.
  2. For a recovery/off day, the only thing that should change in your diet should be the removal of your “sport nutrition” and the possible need to distribute your macronutrients differently (ex. carbohydrates, fat and protein). Maintain a plant-strong diet all day, every day to support metabolism and overall health needs.
  3. A well-designed, balanced diet will keep you well-fueled, nourished and energized and will encourage quick recovery. Health first, performance second.
  4. Concerned about pre, during and post nutrition in relation to your body composition goals? You are always fueling to prep for another week of quality training. Evaluate your daily diet so that you can become performance-focused, not scale-obsessed. By prioritizing the nutrition around workouts, when the body is under the most stress, your body will take care of itself as you get faster, stronger and fitter with a healthy body.

Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N works as a Clinical Dietitian at Baptist Medical Center Beaches, and is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC, providing one-on-one consulting in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. Marni is a Registered Dietitian, holding a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, and is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN). As an elite endurance athlete, she is also a USA Triathlon Level I Coach and a 5x Ironman finisher. Marni is a 110% Play Harder, Brooks ID, Hammer Nutrition and Oakley Women brand ambassador. She enjoys public speaking and writing, and she has several published articles in Fitness Magazine, Bicycling Magazine, The Florida Times-Union Shorelines, Lava Magazine, Hammer Endurance News, CosmoGirl magazine and Triathlete Magazine, and contributes to and Ironman online in addition to USA Triathlon.

To contact Marni, email, visit her blog or her website