LT TRI 2014 chicago run

By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD, METS

You hit snooze and now you’re late leaving for your long training run. You want some fuel to energize your workout, but need something convenient and quick. How about a gel, pack of chews or energy waffle?

Not so fast. Although sports nutrition products are great for use during training and racing, are they really the best choice outside of a workout or race? I say no.

Here are some important reasons to avoid sports nutrition products outside of training/racing time:

Extra calories
Sports nutrition products are designed to replenish calories when a significant amount of workout calories are being expended. You do need calories to fuel a long workout, but where the calories are coming from is also important. Sport nutrition product calories are not as nutrient-dense as real food.

Extra carbohydrate
Most traditional sports products are loaded with carbohydrate/sugar, which is not something necessary in a daily diet (and often unnecessary in training, as well). Refined sugars have a negative impact on the body, and should be consumed sparingly.

Extra electrolytes
Most sports products contain electrolytes like sodium and magnesium. Electrolytes become necessary to consume in many cases during training/racing, but you don’t want to be in the habit of consuming extra amounts in daily diet unless there is a deficiency.

I am very selective about the types of sports nutrition products I recommend to clients, as most of them are packed with garbage ingredients that don’t serve a purpose. Examples would include food coloring/dyes, extra sugar sources, and binders. If these additives don’t serve a purpose during training, they definitely don’t do you any favors when consumed outside of training.

Nutritional benefit
The number one reason to avoid fueling with sports nutrition products outside of training/racing is the lack of nutrient-density these foods provide. Sports nutrition products are designed to replace expended energy quickly, allowing you to continue racing at your highest potential. They are not designed to provide the best bang for your buck when it comes to nutritional value. Real food choices are higher in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein.  

Ok, so what should I eat, you ask? The answer: real food. Whenever you have a choice between packaged and real food, choose the latter.

Here are a couple breakfast examples:

  • Oats, almonds and coconut oil
  • Plain Greek yogurt, mixed nuts and berries
  • Eggs with spinach and fresh fruit

Resist the urge to fuel up pre-workout with training foods. There is almost always a better choice. (Or maybe the workout is one that you can do while fasting to increase your metabolic efficiency.) Be selective about your training and racing foods in general – be comfortable and familiar with all of the ingredients. The body performs better on quality fuel sources it recognizes.

Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD, METS Level II is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is an avid triathlete, having completed many triathlons of all distances including three Ironman races. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific, metabolically efficient fueling plans for her clients. Brooke and her husband, John, own Destination Kona Triathlon Store in south Scottsdale, Arizona. For more information on services and offerings, visit her website at