Do You Really Need to Snack During Your Workouts?

Before you head out for a quick 5-mile run or an hour-long bike ride, empty your pockets—you're better off leaving the snacks at home.

There's little evidence that supports eating during workouts, especially for light to moderate exercise for an hour or less.

Endurance athletes have it in their minds that snacking along the course is vital to their performance. When it comes to snacking, the best guideline is to look at your specific situation.

  • Did you eat enough before the race?
  • Did you carbo-load the night before?
  • Are you running an ultra-marathon?

"Athletes need to consume adequate energy during periods of high-intensity and/or long-duration training to maintain body weight and health and maximize training effects," according to The Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

More: To Eat or Not Eat Before a Run?

The primary goal for athletes is to replace fluid losses and carbohydrates during exercise, the journal says, adding that nutrition guidelines are especially important for endurance events lasting longer than an hour when the athlete has not consumed adequate food or fluid ahead of time or when they are exercising in an extreme environment.

To Snack or Not to Snack

If you're training for a marathon or century ride, it's best to examine your pre-workout nutrition plan to determine if you're consuming the right nutrients. If you do need to take a snack with you on your training run or ride, consider munching on the following foods:

  • Bananas have 30-grams of fast-digesting carbohydrates
  • Dates are easy to chew and high in simple sugars
  • Pretzels are high in refined carbs and a good choice for replenishing salt
  • Frozen grapes are easy to carry, high in sugar, and full of vitamin C

Linda Samuels, dietitian and owner of Training Table Sports Nutrition in Chicago, recommends athletes eat carbohydrates on a schedule as well as hydrate.

More: When to Start Hydrating During Runs

Samuels says each athlete's fitness level and caloric need is different. Add in the various intensity levels, hills and temperature or humidity. All these variables factor into when an athlete should eat their snacks.

With that in mind, look at all factors before you pack your snacks. If you're planning a mild hike, bike or run, you can keep your snacks at home, but bring water to stay hydrated.

For competitive athletes who plan to run or bike for a couple hours, assess the workout and environment, taking into account the temperature, planned intensity and whether you'll encounter hills.

More: What to Eat for Quick Recovery

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About the Author

Suzanne Corey

Suzanne Corey is a journalist and athlete. She competes in events around the country, including a marathon in Hawaii, a sprint triathlon in California, a rockin' half-marathon in Tennessee, and a century ride through Vermont and New Hampshire. When she's not training, Suzanne is raising two daughters and dreaming of a half-ironman. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Suzanne Corey is a journalist and athlete. She competes in events around the country, including a marathon in Hawaii, a sprint triathlon in California, a rockin' half-marathon in Tennessee, and a century ride through Vermont and New Hampshire. When she's not training, Suzanne is raising two daughters and dreaming of a half-ironman. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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