Guest RD: Fueling For Sports

April 15, 2014

I bring you a new RD today – Jenna Braddock, MSH, RD, CSSD, LD/N who writes the blog Fresh Food Perspectives! Jenna is a mother of two and a part-time sports dietitian. She is here to tell you about her path to become a and then her recommendations for fueling before, during and after workouts. Enjoy!


Becoming A Sports Dietitian

One of the most popular questions I get from both students and dietitians is how to become a sports dietitian. Everyone has a different story but becoming a CSSD usually takes determination, guts, and a lot of hard work. But it can be done. Oh, and it’s definitely NOT glamorous.

I knew from day one of becoming a RD that I wanted to pursue sports. Unfortunately, most dietetics programs do not have enough room to offer extensive sports nutrition courses. So I set out to educate myself on the topic. I bought the Sports Nutrition Manual and read it from cover to cover (as well as many other endurance sports nutrition books). I traveled to Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition and Exercise Seminar. I also coached high school volleyball for 2 years while in grad school. This gave me a lot of experience with actual athletes and gave me the opportunity to talk nutrition to not just my team, but others at the same high school. From there I looked for where I could counsel athletes more regularly. I was able to get connected in my local YMCA and started seeing clients sporadically. I also cold called a local sports performance facility and over time, was able to work into a consulting role there. At this point, I had gained enough experience hours and finished my masters, both of which qualified me to sit for the CSSD (Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) exam.

After gaining experience with all types of athletes, I realized that I would really like to work with collegiate athletes. So, I once again cold called a local, private university, and worked myself into a consulting role there. They didn’t have a lot of money but we negotiated a contract for a year of services. I started to explore the option of moving to work as a full time collegiate sports dietitian so I shadowed the RD’s at the University of Florida for a day. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in this kind of work. It was really eye-opening as working with college athletes full time is really hard work. This was a life changing experience for me as I realized that my “dream” job was not very compatible with my other dream of having children.

Fast forward several years and 2 kids later, I now work with athletes on a part-time basis, counseling many of our local athletes and speaking to teams. I still have my eye on another “dream” job in sports and I hope at the right time I will get the chance to work more closely with elite athletes.

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Fueling For Exercise

I’ve noticed lately that many recreational and competitive athletes, whether endurance sports, Crossfit or group fitness buffs, are looking for ways to fuel their bodies with real food instead of performance products, or at least want more options. While gels, drinks and gummies are a great tool for athletes, I couldn’t be happier to help people try whole food methods for fueling. Some new research has begun to support the idea that whole foods like bananas can produce the same performance results as sports drinks, which have a lot of research to support their benefits.

The reason there are so many performance products is two-fold. One, they are just convenient. You can keep a gel pack tucked in your shorts while running and it will be just fine and very easy to consume. The second reason is because they work. For instance, sports drinks are perfectly formulated to contain just the right amount of carbohydrate (about 5-8%) and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) so that your body easily and readily absorbs it. This makes it easy for people to know what to consume to perform their best instead of making mistakes that can really cause some trouble (i.e. drinking straight juice while running). But all this doesn’t mean that you can’t get the same results with actual real food; you just have to get creative. And I certainly like choosing foods without added preservatives and colorings whenever I can.

Before I give you some suggestions on fuel, I have a disclaimer. First and foremost, sports nutrition is one big experiment to find what works for you. Just like you physically train to be prepared for events, you must also try out your fueling strategies to find what works best for you. I encourage my clients to find their “power foods” – the food and drink combinations that make them feel energized and they know will give them a good workout or help them finish strong. (And by the way, everyone can find their power foods, even if it’s the snack to help you finish your work day strong, and I encourage you to do that.) You may end up trying some foods that seem a little weird (as in not your normal food or maybe not-so ‘heathy’) because they just could be the perfect fit for you.

So here is a short list (because the possibilities could be endless) of ideas for fueling pre, during and post workout for anything over 60 minutes. If you are exercising for 60 minutes or less, you probably don’t need anything during your workout besides water. There are, of course, exceptions to that, and you should work with a registered dietitian certified in sports nutrition to get a personalized plan. If you have any other fuel ideas that aren’t listed, please share them in a comment.

Pre-workout (30-60 minutes prior)

? Bagel thin, English muffin, or slice of bread with natural peanut butter

? Low fat yogurt (Choose regular instead of Greek because the higher protein content is not as beneficial as the carbohydrate for this scenario.) with ¼ cup granola

? Energy bar (like Larabar)

? Granola bar (I like Clif crunch granola bars)

? Banana with natural nut butter of choice

? Pita chips and hummus

? Cereal and milk

? 8 oz of milk and piece of fruit

? My Hidden Honey Bars recipe

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During workout that lasts longer than 60 minutes. Take in something every 15-20 minutes from the very BEGINNING.

? Banana pieces (about 1-2” in size)

? Mini Peppermint Patties (my favorite)

? Dried fruit like pineapple

? Boiled and salted potatoes

? Small pieces of your favorite energy bar or cereal bar

? Fig Newtons

? All natural jelly beans or fruit snacks

? Homemade energy drinks and gels made with maple syrup (Recipes here)


Post workout (eat within 60 minutes of completing)

? 10-12 oz low fat or fat free chocolate milk using organic milk and organic chocolate syrup

? PB & J sandwich

? Energy bar with protein (Like Real Food Barre)

? Low fat Greek yogurt with 1 cup cereal (Skip granola here due to typically having a higher fat content, which can slow absorption.)

? 6 oz 100% tart cherry or pomegranate juice protein bar (with 25 grams or less of protein)

? Smoothie made with milk and fruit

? Turkey sandwich

? Crackers with cheese and deli meat

? Go for a full meal like my Orange Chicken over Apricot Spinach Quinoa or Easy Sweet and Sour Stir Fry

So try any of these and see if they just might be your power food combination to athletic success.

Have a healthy day!



Jenna Bradddock, MSH, RD, CSSD, LD/N has been a certified specialist in sports dietetics for over 5 years. She has helped numerous athletes improve their performance through better eating strategies. She is also a faculty member in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of North Florida where she teaches Community Nutrition, Nutrition Education, and Food Fundamentals Lab. Her blog, Fresh Food Perspectives, is where she shares her fresh perspective on health and nutrition, fitness tips, inspiration and award-winning recipes. Follow her on Twitter at @Jbraddockrd

Personally, Jenna is married to Brian, the head high school football coach at Mandarin High School and the mom to 2 ½ year old Jackson and 7 month old Ben. She enjoys cooking, gardening, all kind of fitness (although not particularly gifted in athletics), local food and restaurants, and a good glass of wine or craft beer.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anele @ Success Along the Weigh April 15, 2014 at 7:38 am

Great post and it’s so great to see someone chase their dreams and make it work with their life goals. Good nutritional info in there too especially for the pre-workout noshes. Thanks!


2 Jenna Braddock RD April 15, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Thank you Anele.


3 Ali @ Peaches and Football April 15, 2014 at 7:50 am

What a great post – and good timing for me since I’m itching to get in more exercise during the warmer months. It’s always hard to know what to eat before, during, and after and I really liked the easy and quick ideas you listed here Jenna.

Thanks! :)


4 Jenna Braddock RD April 15, 2014 at 12:26 pm

So glad it was helpful Ali!


5 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats April 15, 2014 at 8:05 am

I definitely used gels during my marathon training – it was just so much easier to carry with me, especially when I had a lot to carry like water, cell phone for safety, keys, money etc. However I definitely used real food before and after – I like knowing what all the ingredients in my good are!


6 jill April 15, 2014 at 8:39 am

Great ideas, Jenna!
I read recently that when doing a long workout, it’s important to replace the calories burned within the timeframe of the workout, or at most, a couple of hours after. This was in regards to not gaining weight when training. I think they were referencing the urge to eat ALL the food that sometimes comes (okay, every time if you’re me) after a big workout. Thoughts on this?


7 Jenna Braddock RD April 15, 2014 at 12:29 pm

It really depends on your goals, the duration and intensity of the workout, and how frequently you exercise. Ideally, about 20 grams of protein and at least 60 grams of carbs should be eaten in the 30-60 minutes post workout IF you are training at high intensities, very frequently, or for longer than an hour. The only time I really focus on eating a certain amount of calories post work out is if you are trying to gain weight or prevent unwanted weight loss.
Does that help?


8 [email protected] April 15, 2014 at 8:39 am

These are all great ideas for pre workout, during working, and after workout fuel! Thanks for the insight!


9 K April 15, 2014 at 8:52 am

Thanks for sharing your career journey and thoughts on sports nutrition! For nutrition during longer cycling or running workouts, I prefer to use Hammer gels. Of course, it’s each person’s personal preference, however, I’m wondering how mint peppermint patties, fig newtons, or fruit snacks are better than sports gels? All three contain added refined sugars, and fig newtons contain refined, enriched flour. Sports gels, such as those from Hammer nutrition, contain long chain sugars, a balanced mix of nutrients and minerals, including amino acids, sodium, and potassium.
Also, I eat bananas and agree they can be a great source of nutrition for sports performance, but I would be wary of referencing only one study funded by Dole to make this point.


10 Jenna Braddock RD April 15, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Great points K. I have absolutely nothing against sports performance products and use them regularly when I train for endurance events. However, sometimes athletes like a mix of flavors and textures and that is where other types of foods are helpful. The goal is to have a mix of the different types of sugars – fructose and glucose most specifically. They absorb slightly differently so a mix can help optimize energy levels staying where you need them. I don’t have a problem using foods with “refined” sugars as fuel. The digest quickly, rarely cause GI troubles, and give rapid energy. The Hammer products are great but they also use “refined” sugars like maltodextrin (or you could say processed) to formulate their products. Either is a fine choice. So it truly comes down to a matter of preference and which item works the best for your body. Even more important is what you eat all the other times, outside of training, to support optimal health, recovery and performance.

Thanks again for your comments.


11 Laura P April 15, 2014 at 10:11 am

That is a dream of mine, too. It is wonderful to see the behind the scenes on how to get there. I love the fact that she believes in whole food fuel!!!


12 Cheri @ Overactive Blogger April 15, 2014 at 11:12 am

Very interesting and very very very very helpful!


13 Dana @ Conscious Kitchen Blog April 15, 2014 at 11:22 am

Loved this post – thanks Jenna & Kath! I like the idea of fueling with real food. I’ll be training for a half marathon this spring and will definitely try some of these out. I usually stick to gel blocks (Clif’s margarita flavor is so good!), but I think trying out fruit snacks would be a good option for me. I like that they’d be more bite size. Sometimes it’s hard to chew those blocks.


14 Cassy @ On The Inside April 15, 2014 at 11:22 am

This post came at the perfect time for me! I’ve been upping my mileage for an upcoming race and have been experimenting with different foods to try to find a good balance, but I also don’t want to use gels or sports drinks or anything like that. So far, I’ve been eating dates during my runs, but I think I’m going to try one of these options this week to see how it works!


15 Jenn April 15, 2014 at 11:30 am

I can see why those are great options, but I don’t really agree with some of those options being better than sports gels/sports drinks. A lot to those options are heavily processed, with a lot of refined sugar or a lot of refined flour in them. I really try and stay away from most processed items, especially surrounding a workout, and stick with as natural of foods as possible (I know not everyone has the time/option to always make their pre/post work out foods)

i would be very interested to see a list that just included VERY MINIMALLY processed foods for pre/post/during workout fuel. You sound like you have a lot of knowledge and experience in the sports nutrition field, so I’m sure you’ve run into this before?


16 Alex @ Kenzie Life April 15, 2014 at 11:34 am

Love it! I find it really helpful to have specific ideas of what to eat and when when it comes to fueling for exercise, so this was great!


17 Sarah April 15, 2014 at 11:44 am

Great post! Fueling seems extra tricky for me because I’m trying to lose weight and my sport (downhill and backcountry skiing) lasts all day with longer breaks interspersed. I never know whether to eat a full meal or keep taking my during-workout snacks!

One product that has an awesome ingredient list and I love love love is the ProBar line. They have delicious protein bars for after my workout and their Bolt chews are far more natural than any others I’ve found.


18 Claire P April 15, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I love this post – I’m running the Boston Marathon next week, and especially considering the timing (getting on the bus at 8:30am, not running until almost lunchtime- 11:30!), I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with my nutrition plan. Before my long runs, I have gotten into a pattern of eating plain Greek yogurt with a little peanut butter and honey stirred in- I actually need something that will be filling and tide me over for a while. During my runs, I snack on jelly and quarters of PB+J, with an occasional gel. Post-workout, it’s tough to be quite as mindful…


19 Molly April 15, 2014 at 12:59 pm

My trainer recommends chocolate milk post work out, too. Problem is, I don’t drink cow’s milk. I prefer almond or coconut milk. I do like chocolate almond milk, though! Is this an acceptable substitute for a post work-out snack?


20 KathEats April 15, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Chiming in : )

Lowfat chocolate milk contains the right mix of carbs and protein to replenish: 4 parts CHO to 1 part PRO. So you’d want to try to recreate that with almond milk, which is unfortunately really low in protein. Maybe a smoothie made with almond milk and additional protein from a real food would fit the bill? It also has a good balance of electrolytes (calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium) but I think the CHO to PRO ratio is most important.


21 Molly April 18, 2014 at 11:51 am

Great! Thanks for the advice, Kath!


22 Ttrockwood April 17, 2014 at 10:12 pm
23 Molly April 18, 2014 at 11:52 am

Perfect! Thanks for this! I will definitely check this out!


24 Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs April 15, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Great info! I find that my fuelling issues sort of ebb & flow, so it’s great to have some new ideas to try!


25 Polly @ Tasty Food Project April 15, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Wonderful post! I’m trying to train myself to run longer distances and always appreciate great ideas on how to fuel myself.


26 Rebekah {aCricketSang} April 15, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Really informational! And it’s great to discover other resources :)


27 Jeri April 15, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Is there any remedy for drinking water and getting nauseous during pilates? I eat yogurt or a banana like 30 minutes before. But about 30 minutes in if I drink some water when we are changing movements from legs to abs, when we start I start getting sick. It only last like 5 mins but its still frustrating.


28 Jennifer April 17, 2014 at 6:47 am

I want to hear from someone who has tried a potato during a long run. This idea is fascinating and I think I want to try it. Where do you put it? Do you get a lot of energy? Take one bite and put it back? Eat it all at once? Butter? Sour cream? Lol. I’m teaining with Team in Training for my first 1/2 marathon. Actually my first race ever. So this will be interesting. I’ve been thinking about trying a tater. Thank you :)


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