What to Eat during Exercise

Those of you who regularly perform endurance sports know the importance of learning what to eat during exercise.  I have worked with some athletes who have no issues consuming any type of fuel during training but more commonly are the athletes who struggle with GI issues.  If you have ever bonked on a bike or suffered from heavy legs during a run, then you know how important nutrition can be. 

As we train and compete we are trying to delay fatigue.  Of course training is a major component to preventing fatigue but carbohydrate and fluid consumed during activity can help.  Peak use of carbohydrate occurs 75-90 minutes after consuming which means that carbohydrates can become a huge source of energy (60-70%) in the later stages of exercise.   This occurs because the carbohydrate is used to maintain blood glucose levels, spare muscle glycogen and lead to a positive effect psychologically (the exercise stress doesn’t feel so bad).

 So when and how much carbohydrate should be consumed?

During a 60-120 minute training session, the recommended goal is to eat and/or drink every 15-20 minutes, and obtain 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour.    See the chart below:



It is important to practice using different types of carbohydrate foods to see foods are tolerated and absorbed.  Many women who are over the age of 50 struggle with GI issues during exercise.   My biggest advice is to keep trying different foods.   Just like you train your muscles to know their capacity, you can train your GI tract to know what it can handle.   Running tends to cause more issues than cycling or swimming. 


Happy Training!!


What to Eat before Exercise

Part One- Eating before exercise  

This is the first of a 3-part series to give you some ideas of what to eat before, during and after exercise.  Today’s topic is “What should an athlete eat before working out?”  This is a common question I hear and definitely a good one.   Let's first look at why eating before training is a good idea.

Eating before exercise has been shown to reduce fatigue.  Endurance exercise fatigue is related to low blood sugar and low levels of carbohydrate in the muscle (glycogen).    Research has shown that carbohydrate can be used as an energy source within 5-10 minutes after consuming.  We know this because we have given athletes a radioactive labeled carbohydrate food and monitored gas exchange afterwards (no athletes were harmed in this research). 

The most benefits are seen in activity lasting over 60-90 minutes.  Keep the food choices low in fiber and fat to avoid any unwanted stomach activity (due to jostling of the stomach).  However, if you are cycling or swimming, that might not be a big deal.   

Math- based on body weight.  To convert lbs to kilograms, divide your weight in lbs by 2.2

4 hours before: 

3 grams/kg-  (Ex: 150 lb ÷ 2.2 = 68 kg)     3 grams x 68 kg= 204 carbohydrate grams


Choose one of the following:

2 Scrambled eggs with white toast/jam and banana

1 bagel with low-fat cream cheese, jelly and banana

3 oz grilled chicken breast with small baked potato + 2 tsp margarine, roll and water

2 cups plain pasta with ¾ cup marinara sauce + 2 oz chicken and 1 plain roll

1 can of a low-fat sport shake with no more than 25 grams protein, 1 sports bar, 1 banana, water

2-3 hours before:

2 grams/kg  (Ex: 150 lb ÷ 2.2 = 68 kg)     2 grams x 68 kg= 136 carbohydrate grams


Choose one of the following:

½ of turkey sandwich on white bread with baked chips

½ bagel with honey and 1 banana

2 pancakes with syrup and berries

32 fluid oz of a sports drink such as Gatorade, Powerade, etc.

1 smoothie with berries, banana, whey protein

1 sports energy bar, 1 cup sports drink, 1 cup water

Less than 1 hour:

.5 – 1 gram/kg   (Ex: 150 lb ÷ 2.2 = 68 kg)     .5 - 1 grams x 68 kg= 34 – 68 carbohydrate grams

Choose one of the following:

Honeystinger waffle

Applesauce packet

1 small baked potato

Half of a sports energy bar such as PowerBar

½ plain bagel or English muffin

Crackers such as saltines or Melba toast

Small box of cereal such as Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies or Total

8-12 ounces of a sports drink such as Gatorade, Powerade, etc.

If weight is a concern and you are trying to lose weight you can reduce the amount of food you eat before (again, there is the science and the art of this).  You may, however; find that your hunger after exercise will be reduced and the intensity of exercise might increase which would promote more calorie burning. 

Next article will be on what to eat during exercise!  

References:  Williams, M.  Nutrition for Health, Fitness and Sport, Krause’s Food and Nutrition Therapy, 12th edition

Menu Planning

Is eating healthier one of your New Years resolutions?  I know many people are excited about that this time of year.  One tip I can offer is to become more organized in your kitchen.  The first step?  Plan your meals!  Start with the evening meal.  Life can become so busy we don't have time to eat so grabbing fast food becomes a very easy option.  We all do what is the easiest.  Well, here is a simple meal planning template you might like.  See if this works for your family.  


What’s for Supper?



Meat Night






-Game meat





Chicken Night

-Chicken breasts

-Roast chicken

-Chicken casserole






Pasta Night











Vegetarian Night


-Beans (burritos, chili)






Fish Night

-Fish fillets










Baked Potato Night

-Baked potato with vegetable

-Baked potato with chili





Wild Card Night













Julie Hansen, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., C.D.

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Chunky Cinnamon Applesauce

I love making homemade applesauce this time of year!  It is so good all by itself or serve on top of oatmeal, yogurt, ice cream, waffles or pancakes.  This recipe cook in the slow cooker so it makes your house smell delicious!

8 medium Granny Smith apples or other tart cooking apples, cut into fourths (peeled or unpeeled)

2/3-cup sugar

¾ cup apple juice

1 Tablespoons margarine, melted

1-teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.      Mix all ingredients in 3.5-6 quart slow cooker.

2.        Cover and cook on high heat setting 1-½ hours to 2 hours or until apples begin to break up.  Stir well to break up larger pieces of apples.

3.       Serve warm or chilled.  To chill, cool about 2 hours, then spoon sauce into container; cover and refrigerated until chilled.

4.       Makes 8 servings. 

* Recipe courtesy of Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook.


Chunky Cinnamon Applesauce

Chunky Cinnamon Applesauce

To Snack or Not to Snack

I am usually a fan of snacking because I do not like my clients to get too hungry before a meal.  Most people need to eat every 4-5 hours to avoid becoming ravenous.  However; snacking is complicated.  On one hand, it does allow you to meet nutritional needs by consuming additional nutrients not consumed at a meal.  BUT, if weight loss is a goal, snacking promotes more exposure to food, more food decisions and possibly more calories consumed.  And, let’s be honest, snacks do not always consist of fruits and vegetables.  Here are a few suggestions for you to consider on the topic of snacking:

1)      Keep the snacks out of sight. We are more likely to eat the first thing we see in our pantry.  According to Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, "anything that creates a pause (such as having to look for a snack) is enough to interrupt mindless eating”.  Try keeping a fruit bowl out on your kitchen counter or cut up vegetables visible in the refrigerator. 

2)      Beware of late-night snacking. If you're habitually eating in the late morning hours when you should be in bed, you might be reprogramming your brain. A 2006 study at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas found that late-night eating habits triggered genetic changes in rats' brains. When rats learned to expect snacks at times they'd otherwise be sleeping, their body clocks flipped. Sleep/wake genes in the rats' brains became in sync with the snack, and the rats started to ignore normal cues of when to sleep — even after the snacks stopped coming.

3)      Avoid eating out of large containers such as bags of chips, nuts or trail mix.  Pre-package these food items or use a measuring cup to portion out the snack and put the bag away. 

4)      When kids are home this summer, do not allow endless snacking.  Set a scheduled time for snacks and stick to it.  Also decide ahead of time what the snack will be.  You can give them a choice between two items. 

5)      Snack ideas for hunger:  yogurt, apple and cheese stick, veggies and hummus, ½ peanut butter sandwich, ¼ cup nuts,

6)      Snack ideas for a treat:  graham cracker + cream cheese + jelly, fudgescicle, otter pop, ice cream sandwich made with graham cracker and ice cream. 


Eating Clean for Runners-a good idea?

One of the current nutrition trends among runners today is known as “Eating Clean” which usually means eliminating highly processed foods andfocusing on consuming whole or natural foods.     There are many of good ideas in the Eating Clean program but many bad ideas as well.  So, as a runner wanting to improve your performance, should you, and can you “Eat Cleaner”?


One popular approach to clean eating is presented in the book "Eating Clean for Dummies" by Jonathan Wright and Linda Larsen, published in July 2011.  Let’s focus on the Six Principles of Clean Eating presented in this book and how I would modify them (presented in italics) to truly enhance your performance.

1)      Eat whole foods-Whole foods are foods that haven’t been tampered with, in the lab or the manufacturing plant. The foods you eat on this plan are straight from the farm: whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, grass-fed and free-range meats, low fat dairy products, unsalted nuts, and seeds. I agree that eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables is what most runners need.   This may be reasonable for the average runner, but for collegiate runners, elite runners and ultra-distance runners, this type of eating may not provide the calories or sodium needed to sustain training.  I have worked with runners who have reduced their eating to whole foods and are coming to me in a walking cast because they have sustained an injury that has disrupted their training! For these athletes, calories do matter most and athletes need to be willing to consume the lower nutrient dense foods in the form of refined sugar and sodium to provide the sports nutrition they require. 

2) Avoid processed foods: Processed foods are any food that has a label. A label means that more than one ingredient was used to make that food. You don’t have to eliminate all processed foods (like whole grain pasta or natural cheeses), but if you can’t pronounce an ingredient on a label, don’t put that food in your shopping basket.

  • Believe it or not, almost all the food that you eat, even the foods “made from scratch," have been processed.  Any food that has been washed, cleaned, milled, cut, chopped, heated, pasteurized, blanched, cooked, canned, frozen, mixed and packaged will alter the food from its natural state and is considered a “processed food.” 
  • Processed foods can also include the addition of substances, such as vitamins, salt, and preservatives that can improve, reduce, or leave unaffected the nutritional characteristics of the raw food.  For example, since 1998, the enrichment/fortification of grains with folic acid has helped reduce the incidences of spina bifida (neural tube defect that causes incomplete formation of the spinal cord) by more than 25 percent. 
  • It is not possible to avoid processed foods or chemicals in your diet, chemicals ARE your food.   The same can be said for preservatives, salt is a preservative and runners can lose up to 1500 mg of salt in 1 hour of sweating.  Eliminating salt could cause cramping for long distance runners.  Added ingredients need to be evaluated for their own properties, not eliminated altogether.  

3) Eliminate refined sugar. Refined sugar provides nothing but calories. Other sweeteners can be used such as maple syrup or honey, but with all the good foods you add to your diet, refined sugar really has very little place in the eating clean plan.

I am a huge supporter of avoiding low-nutrient beverage calories such as sodas.  However, banning sugar is very restrictive.  Sugar can be beneficial to athletes when used correctly.   The human body requires sugar; all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose which is technically “sugar”.  Glucose is then used to provide fuel to your brain, central nervous system and provides integrity for red blood cells.  Many eating clean programs suggest that honey and maple syrup are acceptable substitutes for sugar, however from a nutritional perspective; they are equivalent to white table sugar. 

4) Eat five or six small meals a day. By eating smaller meals throughout the day you can help rev up your metabolism and reduce the chance that you’ll eat some potato chips rather than that whole grain cracker with nut butter and strawberries. You never get so hungry on this plan that you’ll feel deprived or feel the need to cheat.

There is nothing wrong with this recommendation, but there is no strong evidence to say it is  necessary.  Meal patterning is very individualized and for many people it does make sense that eating smaller more frequent meals will help to reduce cravings and control hunger.  In the end, the best meal schedule is what works for you. 

5) Cook your own meals. Instead of buying meals in a box, cook meals from scratch. That’s not as hard as it sounds! Clean, whole foods need little preparation beyond chopping and sautéing to make satisfying, delicious meals your family will love.

 I love this recommendation!  I think this can be a good goal for many athletes.  BUT, there can be a few shortcuts.  There are a lot of “processed” foods on the shelves or in the freezer that can be used to make wholesome meals.  Examples are:  using frozen vegetables , canned beans or canned tomatoes to make soups,  frozen spinach instead of fresh (retains nutrients well and may help to avoid waste), canned pumpkin in oatmeal, instant potatoes as a side, breakfast cereals that contain 5 grams of fiber or more such as shredded wheat, raisin bran, wheat Chex, Kashi cereals.   

6) Combine protein with carbs. When you do snack or eat a meal, make sure that meal is balanced. For the most satisfaction from your diet, and so you’ll be less tempted to eat junk food, combine protein with carbs or carbs and fat. This simple act will fuel your body and quash hunger pangs. 

 I think this is good advice and one that I often use.  My recommendation is to consume a minimum of 2 food groups (carbohydrate + protein=apple + 1 oz cheese) for a snack and 3 food groups for a meal (carbohydrate + protein + fruit or vegetables=brown rice + lean meat + broccoli).   Fiber (found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables also works to help manage blood sugar so including that in each meal or snack is a good plan.

SUMMARY:  There are many good points to the Eating Clean diet but my biggest issue is the concept of promoting good food vs bad food.  When we look at food as being good or bad for us, then we become good or bad when consuming it.  This message can also be passed along to our children.  Eating Clean promotes a restrictive mindset in eating.  I am all about discipline when it comes to eating, but not negative discipline.  It takes discipline to set up regular and predictable mealtimes, to plan the grocery list, shop for the food, prepare it, cook it and clean up.   If there is no discipline, there is chaos, so make sure to keep the discipline positive and not negative.  If you are not enjoying the food you are eating, you will not stick with any dietary change! 

Can you eat just one?

In the March 2016 issue of Food and Wine magazine was an article entitled: "How to Not-A Guide to Healthy Eating".  The title caught my attention.  As a registered dietitian, I tend to be more positive about food and my belief is  there is no food you can't eat, it is just how often and how much you eat certain foods that can be problematic.  

The first food item the article discussed was "How to not Gorge on Sweets- Bake a Single Perfect Cookie".  What a great idea!!! I know a lot of my clients would love this!   SO, I immediately tried the recipe.  Well, it didn't turn out.....my 17 year old son wouldn't eat it.  

So, I went to work to modify the recipe and after about 3 test runs, I finally got it!  This version was taste test approved by my son.  Here is my recipe for a Single Chocolate Chip Cookie:

Julie's Single cookie with peanut butter chips

Julie's Single cookie with peanut butter chips

Turn on oven to 350 degrees
Mix in a small bowl:

1 Tbsp. butter (softened)
2 tsp. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Pinch of baking soda and salt
5-8 Chocolate Chips
Optional: 1/2 tsp. milk (if ingredients need more liquid)

Mix well and form into a ball.  Place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or lightly sprayed with cooking oil spray.  

Flatten and place chocolate chips on top.  
Bake for 11 minutes or until lightly browned.  Let cool slightly.  

Eat with a glass of milk, coffee or tea in a quiet place and enjoy your cookie!