My local grocery store now devotes almost an entire aisle to sports nutrition bars, gels, powders, and beverages. It seems either more people are exercising or sports nutrition products have gone mainstream. But are these sports-specific foods and beverages necessary or even beneficial? There are two factors to consider when deciding what to eat before, during, and after exercise: duration and intensity. Does your exercise consist of a 20- to 30-minute stroll? Or is your idea of a workout a vigorous outdoor pick-up basketball game? If you exercise for less than one hour at an easy
or moderate intensity and you can easily carry on a conversation without stopping to catch your breath, you don't need any special sports foods. But if you exercise at a higher intensity, such that you can only talk in two- to three-word phrases, or if you work out for longer than an hour, then what you eat will play a big role in your sports performance and energy level.

1) Hydration:

If you exercise for less than an hour, water is the perfect beverage. It satisfies thirst and prevents dehydration without adding unnecessary calories. But if you exercise for more than an hour or work out in a very hot climate, you'll benefit from a sports drink, which contains carbohydrates to keep up your energy levels as well as electrolytes (sodium and potassium) to replace those lost through sweat. Sports drinks are absorbed faster than plain water during exercise, and the slightly salty taste encourages you to drink more. Sports drinks designed for consumption during exercise usually contain 50 to 80 calories per 8 ounces.

2) Preexercise fuel:

Before exercising, choose quick-digesting foods that contain primarily carbohydrates, which will provide energy for your muscles. Avoid foods high in fiber or fat, which slow digestion. One to two hours before you exercise, aim to take in 100 to 300 calories with foods such as a Powerbar Pure and Simple Energy Bar, a Nutri-Grain cereal bar, Fig Newtons, a small bagel, or yogurt.

3) Carbohydrates and energy during exercise:

If you will be exercising for longer than one hour, you'll have more energy if you consume small amounts of carbohydrates periodically during exercise. Carbohydrates provide energy for your muscles and brain and help promote muscle recovery. When you run out of carbs, you can't keep going mentally or physically. The more intense the exercise, the more carbohydrates your body uses. For example, running uses more than walking.

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