Optimal fuelling and refuelling

Whatever your nutrition goals may be leading up to your big race (such as shedding those last few kilo’s), never compromise on optimal nutrition before, during and after hard training bouts or races where you need to perform at your best. Your body uses different sources of fuel during exercise, some from food and fluids and others from stored sources. Your body can be trained to use these sources more efficiently, and during training you might use different nutrition strategies at different times to train your body to use fuel more efficiently. The information below provides a guide to optimal nutrition during races and training sessions where you need
to perform at your best.
For more information on periodized nutrition or nutritional training please seeFrequently Asked Questions”.


Nutrition BEFORE exercise and races

Why: Meals before training and races serve two purposes: keeping one from feeling hungry before and during exercise and providing optimal levels of energy for exercising muscles. Depending on individual tolerance, meals should be consumed an hour or longer (up to 2 hours) before a race or strenuous training bout. This will ensure that fuel is available when exercise starts and allows time for the gut to process the meal to prevent stomach upsets during exercise.
What: The ideal food and drink items should be familiar options that are well tolerated and provide a slow release of energy, are not too high in fibre and contain fat and protein levels that your stomach can tolerate. Carbohydrates will be your main source of fuel, unless you are a fat adapted ultra endurance athlete and you have tried and tested these strategies well before your race ( see “Frequently Asked Questions” ). Choose wholesome food based sources of carbs (grains, starchy vegetables, fruit), and keep convenient high sugar options such as sports drinks, bars and gels for ‘emergencies’. Also ensure that you hydrate sufficiently before long training runs and races.
How much: The amount of food you have will depend on the duration and intensity of your training session or race. If you are training for less than an hour there is no need for additional carbohydrates or a large meal before, and a small snack such as fruit may suffice.
Your pre-race meal should contain the following:
● Fluid: Customised based on your individual fluid losses (see “Stay Hydrated”). Or as a rough guide 5 - 10 ml per kg body weight OR 400 – 500 ml in the 2 hours leading to the start of a race
● Carbohydrate: 1 – 4 g per kg body weight 1 – 4 hours before the start of a race
● Protein, fat and fibre as tolerated

Nutrition DURING exercise and races

Why it is important: What you are eating on your run today may influence recovery and performance tomorrow, so ensure that you take in sufficient amounts frequently. For short training sessions of less than 60 – 90 minutes it’s possible to only have water without a snack while exercising. For training sessions or races longer than 90 minutes, food and fluids become important to ensure that glycogen stores get replenished and the body gets cooled down. This prevents fatigue or exhaustion later on in the run. Note that more isn’t necessarily better. The well-trained athlete will be better adapted to use fuels and will need less to prevent fatigue and enhance performance. Taking in too much energy and fluids can lead to unwanted symptoms (cramps, stomach upset) and overhydration can lead to low blood sodium (salt) levels.

When: Start eating and/or drinking within 30 – 60 minutes of your race or long training session and have food and fluids every hour thereafter. Having small sips of fluid every 15 – 20 minutes and spacing & planning food snacks for easier sections on the run will ensure that you reach your fuel and hydration goal. Smaller volumes at a time also prevents stomach upsets. 

What to eat

What: Choose fluids and foods that are easy to eat, easy to carry with you (portable) and easy to digest. This might mean carrying a hydration pack to ensure you get sufficient fluids in, or unwrapping date balls before the start of the race to ensure easy access. Consider foods that are not too dry, easy to chew and swallow (such as fruit purees ) and be mindful that higher protein and fat foods are not easy to digest during intense exercise bouts, although some might also provide salts to the body (such as biltong). Fluids and foods should contain mainly carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores and electrolytes (salts) lost through sweating.
Choosing foods and fluids that contain a combination of sugars will provide the contracting muscle with fuel at different stages during the race. Choose wholesome food based sources of carbs (grains, starchy vegetables, fruit), and keep convenient high sugar options such as sports gels for ‘emergencies’. Small amounts of easy to digest proteins eaten with carbohydrates may be beneficial for muscle recovery in ultra endurance and multistage races.

How much:
● Fluids: Customised based on your individual fluid losses (see “Stay Hydrated”). Or as a rough guide 5 – 7 ml per kg body weight every hour OR 400 – 600 ml every hour (100 – 150 ml or 2 – 3 sips every 15 – 20 minutes).
● Carbohydrate: 30 – 60 g per hour (see table 1 for carbohydrate content of foods).
● Electrolytes: Fluids containing sodium, potassium and magnesium


Suggestions of foods to pack for long exercise sessions and races:

● Fresh fruit (banana, sliced apple, sliced pear)
● Dates
● Date balls or bars
● Fruit purees
● Nougat
● Fruit cake
● Banana bread
● Sandwiches with marmite or bovril or jam or honey
● Hot cross buns
● Boiled baby potatoes or sweet potatoes with salt
● Cherry or small Rosa tomatoes
● Savoury or sweet muffins - mini or regular size
● Biltong
● Dried fruit (dried mango, apple, raisins)
● Fruit bars

*Read labels for more precise values as values may differ between brands/types.

Foods that contain approximately 25 – 30g carbohydrates:
1 large banana
2 small apples
2 large or 5 medium medjool dates
2 Tbsp raisins
4 date balls
3 baby potatoes
40/45 g dried fruit or cereal bar
1 hot cross bun
1 standard banana or carrot muffin
2 slices of bread

*Read labels for more precise values as values may differ between brands/types.

Refuelling strategies

Nutrition AFTER exercise and races

Why it is important: During long bouts of exercise, energy and fluid stores get depleted and replacing these stores is essential. How well you recover today will determine how well you perform tomorrow.

When: To help the body adapt to the physiological stress from a recurring exercise load, stores need to be replaced within the window period for optimal recovery. Aim to eat and drink within 30 minutes after exercise, with a small meal within 2 hours after exercise and again after 4 hours.

What: A combination of fluids, carbohydrate, protein and electrolytes are essential for optimal recovery. Your recovery meal and/or drink should include fluids to replace lost stores, carbohydrate and protein rich foods and electrolytes:
● Fluids: 1.2 – 1.5 litres per kg of weight loss (check urine colour - dehydration is indicated by dark colour urine)
● Carbohydrate: Approximately 1 g carbohydrate per kg body weight from food and fluids
● Protein: 20 - 25 g of protein consumed with carbohydrates aids optimal recovery.
● Electrolytes: Include salty foods or fluids that contain sodium, potassium and magnesium.

Recovery meal and snack options include:

Snack options for recovery (within 30 minutes after)
Flavoured milk or drinking yoghurt + fruit + biltong
Smoothie + grain / cereal based bar + boiled egg
Dairy free smoothie + grain /cereal based bar + salty nuts
High protein drink + grain /cereal based bar
Seeded Toast + nut butter or cottage cheese + honey
Sports recovery shake

*Amounts will depend on your personal needs

Meal options for recovery (within 2 hours after recovery snack)
Option 1: Egg and toast with fruit salad
Poached or scrambled egg on toast with spinach, tomato, mushrooms and avocado.
+ Fruit salad with yoghurt and a sprinkle of nuts

Option 2: On the run
Wrap or sandwich with protein filling (beef, chicken, tuna, cheese, falafel), raw vegetables (tomato, cucumber, grated carrot, beetroot, spinach) and avocado/hummus
+ Flavoured milk or fruit based smoothie

Option 3: Salad
Grain based salad (brown rice, bulgur wheat, pearl barley, quinoa) with protein filling (chicken, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, lentils, falafel, tofu), nuts & seeds and olive- or avocado oil dressing + Cold pressed fruit juice

Option 4: Hot meal
Grilled chicken or fish with grilled sweet potato or baby potatoes with steamed vegetables or mixed salad (add olive- or avocado oil, avocado, nuts, seeds)
+ Fruit based drinking yoghurt

*Amounts will depend on your personal needs


Meal examples include

Option 1: Bircher muesli
Bircher muesli made with rolled oats, cinnamon and grated apple soaked overnight in milk (cows-, almond-, soy milk), served with flaked almonds and honey.
Cold pressed fruit & vegetable juice 
Toast with honey
Coffee or Ceylon Tea or Green Tea

Option 2: Smoothie
Smoothies with a combination of fresh fruit, plain yoghurt, honey.
Dilute down with milk of choice.
Add cocoa and coffee for a boost of caffeine.

Option 3: Egg and toast
Boiled or poached egg with toast and honey or extra fruit jam.
Coffee or Ceylon Tea or Green Tea

Option 4: On the run
Ready to eat or quick cooking plain oats with berries, banana and honey.
Ready to drink smoothie
Coffee or Ceylon Tea or Green Tea
* Amounts will depend on your personal needs


Beetroot & Coconut Smoothie  
Banana Coffee Cashew & Cocoa Smoothie
Blueberry Chia Smoothie
Tropical Smoothie Bowl
Green Smoothie Bowl


Recovery Meal Recipes

Spicy Poached Eggs 
Cottage Pie with Vegetable Mash
Braised Chicken with Root Vegetables
Red Quinoa Salad
Brown & Wild Rice Salad with Mushrooms 
- add your favourite protein rich food (fish, chicken, cheese, tofu)
Tunisian Tuna Salad - add to your favourite wrap or have on your favourite bread

*Disclaimer: Links to product baskets may contain a combination of products appropriate for pre-, during and after race nutrition. Please read labels and select products based on your personal needs and needs before, during and after training. For individualised nutrition guidance, visit a registered dietitian with a
special interest in sport.