Should You Eat While You Work Out?

By Desiree Nielsen 

Thursday, May 10th

There is no better way to celebrate spring than getting outside and moving your body. I love hiking, both for the mental and physical boost. Whether you’re hitting the trails or hopping on your bike for a long ride, you might want to consider packing snacks.

However, despite all the advice on optimizing exercise through nutrition, the average person (that includes me!) doesn’t really need to eat during a workout. For those of us doing typical light or moderate workouts that last less than an hour, all you need is some water to stay hydrated. Hitting a class or going for a 30 minute jog? Water is just fine. As the weather heats up, you might want a bit of electrolyte mix if you sweat a lot.

However, if you are going out for longer than an hour, you don’t want hunger hampering your fun! For moderate activity over an hour, like hiking or biking, eat whatever you love. Trail mix, whole food nutrition bars and fruit are great options that aren’t too difficult to pack. I love these delicious energy balls that taste like pumpkin pie. They are great for a quick boost before a workout…or to pack while you are on the trails or the bike!

For those of you with advanced fitness goals, like training for an endurance event or maximizing muscle mass, eating in workout may help you reach those goals faster and stronger. For strenuous activity, you need to train your nutrition the same way you train your body…and your stomach will dictate what you can eat. Some people don’t tolerate solid nutrition well; here, sports drinks or gels are a great option. When I was a longer distance runner, I actually loved eating raw dates in run but they aren’t a fit for everyone. I would eat one date every half hour for a boost.

For intense endurance training, 30-45 grams of carbohydrates per hour is pretty standard practice. Most sports drinks and gels are designed to help make this easy. If you’re looking to make serious muscle gains, or if you train multiple times a day, in workout protein might be a good idea but it’s important to talk to a sports dietitian for personalized recommendations.

Many of us really don't need to eat anything during a workout…just be sure to stay hydrated! If you have advanced fitness goals, you can find a dietitian in private practice via the Dietitians of Canada Find-a-Dietitian database.


Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She runs a nutrition consulting practice with a focus on inflammation, digestion and plant-centred diets. Desiree is the author of a book on anti-inflammatory nutrition called Un-Junk Your Diet: How to shop, cook and eat to fight inflammation and feel better, forever and her new cookbook, Eat More Plants: 100 Anti-inflammatory Plant-centred Recipes for Vibrant Living is slated for release August 2019 with Penguin Canada. She is also the host of The Urban Vegetarian on Gusto TV and co-founder of My Healthy Gut, an innovative and research-backed iOS app for digestive health.