Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies

Continue

Navigation

Nutrition for fitness events

There are now all sorts of fitness events you can participate in: half marathons, endurance events, or even inflatable obstacle courses. They’re all designed to test your fitness abilities, get you moving, and to be a fun day getting you out of the house.

These events can last anywhere between 30 minutes to over five hours, depending on the type of the event and your fitness levels. You’ll have to do some form of training to be able to complete the day. But another important issue is keeping your body fuelled with muscle glycogen and blood glucose to keep those muscles contracting. When these stores start to become depleted, you’ll start to feel fatigued during prolonged exercise. So, keeping these topped up in the muscles and liver is very important.

So to help with this, what do you need to eat, how much of it, and when do you need to eat it?

Female runner taking a break

Daily requirements during training

Your daily intake of carbohydrates should be timed around your training during the week, whether it’s high-intensity, or a longer session. This will determine the amount of carbohydrate you should have on that day. This is essential to help with performance and optimise recovery. This means that diet is vital in restoring glycogen to the muscles and liver. You can achieve this by following the table below.

The table shows the amount of carbohydrate you should aim to consume per day, depending on your daily activity. For more about which kinds of exercise fit in each category, see our information on Exercise – getting started.

Activity Description  Carbohydrate targets (g / kg / day*)
Light General physical activity, low-intensity or skill-based, lasting around 30–60min per day, 3–4 times per week 3-5
Moderate Moderate exercise programme, around 1 hour per day 5-7
Moderate to high intensity Moderate to high intensity; 2–3 hours per day, 5–6 times per week 5-8
Endurance Endurance exercise programme, moderate to high intensity, 1–3 hours per day 6-10
High-volume intense High-volume intense exercise, 3–6 hours (1 or 2 sessions) per day, 5–6 times per week 8-10
Extreme commitment Moderate to high intensity of more than 4–5 hours per day 8-12

*g / kg / day refers to how many grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight you need. So, someone who is 80kg and training at a moderate intensity should have 400–560g of carbohydrate per day.

Carbohydrate intake before your event

Muscle fatigue is one of the most common problems during endurance events. It’s often caused by low muscle glycogen stores resulting in: a reduction in performance and work rate, impaired skill, and increased perception of effort. Therefore, topping up liver and muscle glycogen stores is important to keep you going as these are relatively limited.

This table shows the amount of carbohydrate you should aim to consume in the day or two before your event.

Activity Description  Carbohydrate targets (g / kg / day*) Comments
More than 90 minutes Event lasting longer than 90 minutes 10-12 10–12g/kg every 24 hours over a 48-hour period prior to the start of the event
Less than 90 minutes Event lasting no longer than 90 minutes 7-12 24 hours prior to event start

Carbohydrate loading (1–2 days before your event)

If your event involves more than 90 minutes of sustained and/or intermittent exercise, you might want to consider ‘carbohydrate loading’ for 48 hours before the start. This is a strategy that aims to maximise your glycogen stores before endurance exercise. If the event lasts no longer than 90 minutes, you can achieve carbohydrate loading just 24 hours before the start.

Examples of foods rich in carbohydrate:

25g of carbohydrate per 100g of pasta 23g of carbohydrate per 100g of brown rice
66g of carbohydrate per 100g of oats 21g of carbohydrate per 100g of quinoa
20g of carbohydrate per 100g of sweet potato 72g of carbohydrate per 100g of buckwheat
23g of carbohydrate per 100g of banana 61g of carbohydrate per 100g of chickpeas

You should choose nutrient-rich carbohydrates. Read our Information on carbohydrates to find out more about these complex carbs.

1–4 hours before your event

In this period you should have 1–4g/kg of carbohydrate. You should also avoid foods high in fat, protein and fibre; this may help with gastrointestinal issues during the event. Carbohydrate-rich snacks and drinks can help meet your energy needs.

You may also want to consider carbohydrates that are low on the glycaemic index (GI), meaning the glucose is released into your bloodstream slowly. This may provide a more sustained source of fuel if you can’t take on carbs during the event. Find out which foods are low on GI in our Information on carbohydrates.

During the event

Depending on the length of the event, you may also need to take on some carbohydrates while you’re on the go. The table below outlines your nutritional requirements during an event. Trial these amounts during training to see how your body reacts.

Duration of event Carbohydrate target Comments
Less than 45 minutes None If the event lasts no longer than 45 minutes, no carbohydrate is needed. Stores will not deplete in this time, as long as you’ve followed the above guidelines.
45-75 minutes Small amounts if needed, or mouth rinse

During sustained high-intensity events lasting 45–75 minutes, it may help to have small sips of sports drinks. But your activity shouldn’t be limited by a lack of muscle glycogen, as long as you’ve followed the above guidelines.

It’s also thought that frequently sipping a carbohydrate solution can stimulate sensors in the mouth and brain, improving your motor output and muscular performance.

You might also consider mouth rinsing (rinsing a carbohydrate solution around the mouth for around 5–10 seconds before spitting it out), especially when you need high power output.

1–2.5 hours

More than 2.5 hours
30–60g


Up to 90g

You should try out this approach before your event, to find an ideal refuelling plan that also aids hydration and doesn’t cause discomfort in your gut and stomach. A range of isotonic sports drinks and energy gels can provide carbohydrates quickly and easily.

Products providing multiple carbohydrates, eg glucose and fructose mixture, might be absorbed more quickly.


After the event

To help with your recovery, in the 4–6 hours after your event you should take on 1–1.2g/kg/h of carbohydrates. So, if you weigh 70kg, you’d have 70–84g of carbohydrates per hour: 280–336g of carbohydrates.

If you’ve got the energy left, you could whip yourself up a tasty pasta dish to give you these recovery carbs. Try this delicious tomato and caper linguine from Jamie Oliver.

You could also try a healthy smoothie. This is ideal for fast recovery and a carb boost.

Details

  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
  • Author information Author information

    Produced by Nick Ridgman, Head of Health Content, Bupa Health Content Team, October 2017
    Reviewed by Neil Gunby, Health Adviser, and Adam Keenan, Lifestyle Health Adviser
    Next review due October 2020

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.

    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
    verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Nick Ridgman

Nick Ridgman
Head of Health Content







  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
  • Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
  • Fay Jeffery – Web Editor
  • Marcella McEvoy – Specialist Editor, Content Portfolio
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor (on Maternity Leave)

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.

Readable

In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.

Reliable

We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.

Relevant

We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: healthinfo@bupa.com. Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road
London
WC1X 8DU

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.