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Avoiding The Wall: Mid-workout Nutrition for Endurance Athletes

As an endurance athlete, you know how important nutrient timing is for performance. The wrong meal before a workout and you’re more likely to be running to the bathroom than the finish line. Without a great post-workout meal, you’re likely to be too sore and tired to push it hard at tomorrow’s workout. But you may have not thought too much about how mid-workout nutrition can fuel better performance. Focusing on electrolytes and caloric fuel mid-workout can help you to build stamina and avoiding hitting the wall mid-race—whether you’re running your first race or signing up for your 10th triathlon. 

Why does mid-workout nutrition matter?
You may have heard friends or training partners talk about “hitting the wall” or bonking (or perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself). This is a dreaded situation where your body just can’t go any further—not matter how much willpower you have. Even if your fitness level is high, your body can only go so far on pre-workout fuel and the stored reserves, before you need additional fuel to help going. Most athletes will start to deplete these reserves by 60 minutes into a workout. 

How to hydrate for endurance
When you’re working hard, you’re going to sweat heavily. It’s important not to just rehydrate with water, but to also include electrolytes. The main electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride. Your blood circulates better when you’re hydrated, delivering oxygen to the muscles and clearing lactate buildup so you can go longer. Sip on coconut water mid-workout, make your own drink with dates, lemon juice and sea salt, or try an electrolyte-enhanced hydration powder.

My favorite foods to fuel mid-workout
Easily digested simple carbs are your first fuel choice. To continue at maximum pace, your body needs 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

For longer runs I’ll use one of these whole food options:

  • Dates
  • Dried apricots
  • Raisins
  • Fruit juice
  • Natural sports gel such as Vega Sport Endurance Gel (made without maltodextrin or any artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners)

For lower intensity and longer workouts, small amounts of high-quality protein and fat can help sustain the quick burning fuel of carbohydrates. Chia seeds, hempseeds, pumpkin seeds and nuts are my top choices. I’ll either grab some in trail mix mid-cycle, or nutrient dense energy bar.

Listen to your body
Most importantly, don’t forget to tune into what your body needs mid-workout. The exact amount of electrolytes and food you need doesn’t just depend on the length of your workout. Genetics, fitness level, climate and overall diet all determine exactly how much fuel you need—and what type is best. Get in the habit of noticing the signs of your energy levels starting to drop, and focus wavering. Your main objective during training should be to never become hungry or thirsty. I have found sipping on electrolyte-rich water every 15 to 20 minutes during a workout, and refueling with easily digestible carbohydrates every 45 minutes works well for my body.

Mid-workout fueling may be a weakness in your training. Identifying your weaknesses will allow you to tackle them head on and intentionally train to them—otherwise they’ll never go away.  Whether you’re breaking a plateau, working on building stamina or searching for motivation, find a nutrition and training tip for your athletic weakness at FuelYourBetter.com