Step 2: Eat Smarter During Exercise

Eating smarter during exercise is quite straightforward. The number one goal is to stay hydrated. The secondary goal is to provide your muscles with 1) some amino acids if you are doing workouts that cause muscle breakdown like sprinting, CrossFit or other strength training or 2) some carbohydrates if you are doing endurance exercise lasting longer than 90 minutes. 

For the vast majority of us, we simply need to stay hydrated and the best way to do that is to sip water during your workout or practice. Listen to your body and follow your thirst. I try to start my workouts with a few mouthfuls of water and then sip consistently during practice. I only use sports drinks if I’m doing a very hard workout lasting longer than 90 minutes, which for me is a bike ride. I think that for almost everybody sports drinks are a bad idea.

Did you know that sports drinks have a lot of added sugar – usually the same amounts or more than a can of pop? The difference between the two is that sports drinks have been designed to provide us with the right amount of electrolytes we lose while sweating through a hard workout. Plus, the lack of bubbles also makes sports drinks easy to guzzle. Even with the electrolytes the added sugars are totally unnecessary for most people. The exception is if you're exercising for longer than 90 minutes at a time. Another time when a sports drink might be a good idea is if you’re exercising outdoors in the summer on a very hot day and you’re sweating a lot.

I also recommend trying some healthier options instead of the traditional sports drinks. Coconut water, for example, is considered a natural rehydrant because it has potassium, an electrolyte we lose while we sweat. It also contains some carbohydrate. With a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime, it’s even better! Watermelon juice also has some interesting properties that are worth exploring.

If you are trying to keep to a low-carbohydrate diet, then having some branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) during workout is a good idea. BCAAs are special protein components that can be used as fuel during exercise. All other amino acids must be processed by your body before being used as energy. BCAA powder can be easily added to liquids to boost performance further. These have been shown not only to delay time to fatigue during exercise, but also to help prevent muscle breakdown while working out. Dr. John Berardi has posted some good options for BCAA’s here: I also recommend Living Fuel Super Aminos:

In general, most of us only need water during our workouts. If you are doing a hard endurance workout, training for a triathlon or marathon or doing multiple workouts in one day then you can benefit from having some carbohydrates during your practice. If you are doing a strength training workout or if you want to protect against muscle breakdown, even during an endurance workout then you can add some amino acids to your fuelling plan.

Today's POWER-UP: Let's review the key points of nutrition during exercise

  • Hydrate! (recommended 500-1000mL water each hour for endurance events, otherwise sip water as needed throughout your workout).

  • For exercise lasting 30-75 mins a mouthwash of carbohydrate solution may be sufficient for nervous system benefits.

  • For 60 minutes - 2 hours of training aim for 30g of carbohydrate per hour.

  • For 2-3 hours increase to 60g of carbohydrate per hour.

  • For long sessions >2.5hours you will require 80-90g of carbohydrate per hour (a mixture of glucose and fructose will help with absorption).

  • Avoid routine use of commercial sports drinks – instead consider watermelon, coconut water or simple homemade natural sports drinks. 

  • Consider adding a branch-chain amino acid (BCAA) solution to any of these options.

DIVE DEEPER: Homemade Sports Drinks to Fuel Your Sport

Tea Based: 

1L of herbal tea

½ tsp of sea salt

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp potassium chloride

2 tbsp maple syrup or honey

lemon or lime to taste


Greg’s Basic Sport Drink:

1.5L water

juice from 3 lemons, limes or oranges

½ tsp sea salt

1 tablespoon honey


Watermelon Coconut:

1 cup watermelon

1cup coconut water

juice from 1 lime

½ tsp sea salt



Papaya Coconut Punch:

½ cup papaya juice (no added sugar)

1 cup coconut water

juice from one lemon

½ tsp sea salt