As an endurance athlete, you know full well the importance of food as fuel. When researching what to drink to reach exercise performance goals, the focus often falls on what to consume before and after a workout, but do you know what to drink during workouts?
Any endurance or high intensity athletes can benefit from including nutrition during their workout, but knowing what to drink during workouts is where things can get confusing.
Cyclists and runners often swear by gels or performance energy shots as a way to boost their performance during a workout, but what you eat or drink during a workout will vary according to your personal goals, how long you exercise, and the intensity and type of exercise performed.
While there are overlaps in general needs for endurance athletes while they are performing exercise, remember that everybody is unique and your needs may be different.
In this article, we will focus on how to determine your nutrition needs during a workout so you can identify what to drink during workouts, races, and extended training sessions.
To get started, let’s discuss why it’s a good idea to drink during your workouts in the first place.
Do you need to eat and drink during a workout?
If you could benefit from eating or drinking during a workout depends on the length of your workout. No matter the intensity, if you are exercising for more than 90 minutes, most sports nutrition experts will recommend refueling at some point.
Usually, for endurance athletes or high intensity workouts that extend up to 90 minutes, the recommendation is to consume some kind of carbohydrate every 30 minutes. The carbohydrates can vary but should sit within the range of 50-100 calories.
Even bodybuilders or athletes that weight train for extended periods of time tend to benefit from some kind of energy boost mid workout, but for each athlete what to drink during workouts will change.
There are three major considerations when choosing what to drink during a workout:
- The type of exercise or fitness goal
- The length of time you’re exercising
- Your body type and specific physiological needs
When looking at nutrition tips for runners and other endurance athletes, there is often a lot of concern and questions surrounding nutrient timing before, during, and after exercise.
Nutrient timing is especially important during long endurance training days, but hyper focusing on it only during exercise doesn’t usually have the desired effect. When it comes to exercise and nutrition, consistency is far more important.
So, identifying what to drink during a workout and how to fuel your body most effectively is far more sustainable in the long term. Let’s take a look at the three things you should consider when deciding what to drink during workouts.
1. The type of exercise
Even between types of endurance exercise there will be variation in how you fuel your workouts, but usually there is a more drastic difference between endurance athletes, bodybuilders, and athletes training for a fitness competition.
When training as a bodybuilder, or even just doing more targeted strength training, you are focused more on building muscle and weight gain. Due to this, your body needs more protein and calories throughout the day. Bodybuilders also need carbohydrates, but not as much as endurance athletes.
If you are training for an endurance sport like running, cycling, rowing, etc., then you’re engaging in more high-intensity mileage and exercise each week.
Since there is more of an energy output on a consistent basis as an endurance athlete, your body needs a high level of carbohydrates and calories. Protein is also important for endurance sports, but is often combined with carbohydrates.
Those training for a competition will need a similar level of calories but it is possible you’d need fewer carbs than endurance athletes. This is usually only the case if the fitness competition is focused on dropping body fat percentage. In those cases, you will benefit more from adding essential amino acids to preserve lean muscle strength and mass.
Evaluating the type of exercise you are engaging in and your specific goals can help you narrow down nutrition needs and what to drink during workouts.
During a training session, endurance athletes and bodybuilders alike reach a point when they need a boost in energy and additional support for their muscles to help fast track recovery.
While endurance training, or during a high intensity long bodybuilding session, what to drink during workouts could include water and a protein/carbohydrate drink, or an essential amino acid drink.
2. The length of your exercise
The length of your exercise and the intensity of that exercise are imperative in deciding what to drink during a workout.
Endurance training often exceeds more than 45 minutes, but the most commonly discussed threshold for athletes needing to refuel is 90 minutes. Within that 90 minutes, nutritionally plan to eat or drink something every 30-45 minutes.
Even if you don’t feel hungry during a run or a bike ride, your body still needs fuel. The reason most endurance athletes don’t feel hungry after even 45 minutes of high intensity exercise is because your blood is being pumped elsewhere and away from your digestive tract.
However, all of your body’s stored carbohydrates run out after at least 90 minutes.
You don’t want to get to that point.
That’s why knowing when and what to drink during workouts is essential to maintaining a high level of endurance performance.
As you run out of carbohydrates in your body and you continue to engage in physical activity, your body will be under more oxidative stress and your post workout recovery will take longer.
Not to mention, as you run out of steam and stored carbohydrates, it is easy to bonk suddenly because of a drop in blood sugars.
3. Your specific body type and needs
While you can evaluate the type of exercise and length of each training session, every athlete is going to have different needs in terms of nutrition. Things like body mass, gender, and other physiological needs will cause some drastic variations.
For example, an athlete that has type 1 diabetes may need to have more targeted timing in terms of carbohydrates and sugars.
Regardless of what it is you are using to fuel your body during exercise, your goals for that nutrition should be targeted.
The number one concern for any body type should be hydration. After that, when working on endurance training, providing immediate fuel, boosting performance, improving recovery, and preserving muscle come next.
Deciding what to drink during workouts
As you identify and narrow down your needs in terms of nutrition, then you can start to choose what to drink during workouts or what to eat as you train. Most of the time, it is easiest to break down what you are eating to fuel your workout into two categories: protein and carbohydrates.
Fats are important for endurance athletes, but generally shouldn’t be consumed during exercise since they’re more difficult to digest.
Within those three categories, you also want to include amino acids. This can include taking the amino acids found in protein supplements like hydrolyzed collagen or using BCAAs during workouts.
When consuming protein during exercise, the goal is to prevent muscle breakdown and to enhance recovery. Eating or drinking protein during a workout can improve your recovery and help your body adapt to varying training regiments.
If you eat before you exercise though, you often do not need as much protein during a workout to get the same results. For most endurance athletes, consuming anywhere from 5-15 grams of protein per hour is sufficient.
Choosing a protein that also has carbohydrates is the best food to eat during a workout for endurance athletes.
Carbs provide your body with immediate fuel and will help boost performance. Not only that, but keeping up with your body’s need for carbohydrates as you exercise you can help regulate your stress hormones as well.
How many carbohydrates you consume depends on the variables we discussed earlier in this article, as well as whether the carbs are combined with protein or not. What to drink during a workout can often come down to one supplement when all of the right nutrients are there.
The maximum amount of carbs you can digest while you exercise is around 60-80 grams per hour. However, if you combine the carbohydrates with protein, then you can achieve the same performance benefit with only 30-45 grams per hour.
These rates will be easier to achieve when the carbs within the supplement are a mix of glucose, fructose, and maltodextrin as they all use different transportation mechanisms within your body after consumption.
So, after all that, you still might be wondering what to drink during workouts - so we’ll break down the best mid-workout supplements for you.
What is the best supplement to drink during a workout?
You can begin to narrow down what to drink during workouts by first looking into supplements that contain both protein and carbohydrates. You also want to consider the amino acid content of the protein you choose since amino acids are essential to muscle recovery.
As you consider the ingredients, since you are focusing on what to drink during workouts, you want to ensure that the supplement you choose is easily digestible. If it is easy to consume and digest, then it not only makes you more comfortable as you train, but those nutrients can be distributed and absorbed by your body at a much faster rate.
The protein absorption rate of the supplement you choose comes down to the molecule size of the protein. That’s why we recommend looking for hydrolyzed collagen, or better yet, nano-hydrolyzed collagen as a supplement.
Frog Fuel liquid protein is a nano-hydrolyzed collagen supplement, which means that the collagen molecules have been put through the process of hydrolysis to break the protein molecules into smaller pieces.
When collagen has been nano-hydrolyzed it has gone through hydrolysis more than once, to make the molecules even smaller and easier for your body to process.
Each single serve pouch of Frog Fuel protein contains 8g of easy to absorb protein and 10g of carbohydrates, making it the perfect part of an endurance workout, and a fabulous choice for any athlete when deciding what to drink during workouts.