But What to Eat During Exercise?

There’s a lot of marketing directed toward food for sports participants, and as a consumer it’s often difficult to distinguish between reality and hype. Is Gatorade necessary? Is water better? Is a Power Bar better than a couple Fig Newtons? As a recreational or competitive athlete, you need to determine which foods work best for you under which conditions. You may love to eat an energy bar during a 60-minute bike ride, but may find that same energy bar causes stomach cramping on longer rides and a handful of trail mix works better. A Coke or other soda can be a very effective “sports drink” for some as it is palatable, has a little caffeine, and can provide the necessary energy needed to finish the workout; but others may find Gatorade better as it has no carbonation. The bottom line is that each person needs to experiment with different foods for the types of activities in which they participate. Keep in mind not only the type of activity, but also approximately how many calories will be expended and what the temperature is. Fluids will always be important but finding a supplemental food for your workout may be unnecessary if your activity lasts less than an hour. Below are some suggestions and comparisons for fluid and food products that can be used as a supplement during a workout. Always experiment with new combinations of foods or products prior to a competition, never during the event.

Scroll down for a comparison of some common and not-so-popular sport foods.

Food Serving Size Calories CHO#(g) Sugars(g) Fiber(g) Fat(g) Protein(g) Cost/50 calories*
Water 12oz 0 0 0 - - - $.00
Gatorade 12oz 75 21 19.5 - 0 0 $.50
Coca-Cola 12oz 140 39 39 - 0 0 $.23
Power Bar (choc.) 1 (2.3oz) 230 45 14 3 2 10 $.39
Clif Bar (carrot cake) 1 (2.4oz) 240 43 21 5 4 10 $.37
Genisay Bar (choc. mint) 1 (2.2oz) 220 33 19 2 3.5 14 $.41
Fig Newtons 4 cakes 220 44 28 2 5 2 $.10
Oreo Cookies 4 cookies 210 32 17.3 1.3 9.3 2.7 $.07

#CHO = Carbohydrate
*Product $/(total calories/50 calories)

Nutrition information collected from Nutrition Facts Panels on products. Prices are reflective of those in Bozeman, MT, not on sale.

Christina Campbell, PhD, RD, is an Assistant Professor in Nutrition Science at Montana State University – Bozeman. Christina strives to balance work, family, exercise, and eating well on a daily basis. Some days are better than others.