• By Julie Stefanski
  • In 2018
  • June 28, 2018

Nutrition for Fitness: Fueling Summer Training

by Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

While everyone sees messaging for better nutrition and increased activity levels, often individuals do not know how to support fitness with diet, or even that it is something they should think about. In the summer, the importance of nutrition to support physical activity is even more important as we deal with some hot temperatures and extra time outside, potentially away from food and fluids.

Two key groups that should be paying better attention to hydration and fueling are youth athletes and adults new to running and cycling. Summer sports such as baseball and softball are popular in youth, but so are sports like swimming. Come August, many high school athletes start practicing intensely, some with heavy equipment like football players. When exercising in the heat, whether in a bathing suit or football gear, the body is under extra stress. For adults, road races are becoming increasingly popular year to year, with the average person competing in longer distances, too. Jumping in to training without proper guidance can be dangerous though. It’s important everyone is cleared by a physician before beginning any exercise program, but working with a registered dietitian can help you make the most of your training to benefit your success and long term health.

When it comes to summer nutrition for youth athletes or adults, the first nutrition recommendation from sports dietitians is often hydration focused. Heather Mangieri, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, author of Fueling Young Athletes says “Above all else, focus on fluids! Training in hot and humid weather puts athletes at greater risk for dehydration if sweat losses are not replaced. Even slight dehydration can have adverse effects on performance and left untreated can increase the risk of other heat-related illness. Start all training sessions well-hydrated, drink fluids at regular intervals throughout the entire practice, and re-hydrate after.”

In addition to water intake, carbohydrates and electrolytes also play a role in hydration status. If you’re engaging in moderate to vigorous exercise lasting longer than an hour, ingesting some carbohydrate during activity helps muscles hold on to fluid in addition to supplying the body with the quickest form of energy, glucose, to keep exercise intensity up and prevent low blood sugar. Sodium is the most important electrolyte to be mindful of replacing longer exercise as well. While during the day it’s easy to obtain adequate sodium from foods, during activity it must be consciously replenished. Sports drinks are an easy way to maintain hydration status, but you can also obtain these nutrients by simply drinking water while ingesting dried fruits that have been salted or using products like gels and sport blocks.

While starting training sessions well-hydrated is key, it’s also important to begin exercise adequately energized. Many people start exercising more as a form of weight loss and due to media messaging may hear to be successful in that pursuit, they should exercise on an empty stomach or exercise before eating that day. However, if you enter an exercise bout without having eaten, not only can it mean a less efficient and low-energy workout, it can also mean a slower metabolism the rest of the day, poor recovery from exercise, and a tendency to overeat later to compensate for what wasn’t consumed.

If morning training best fits into your lifestyle, have a half of a banana with water or a small handful of raisins before you get going. If you’ll exercise several hours after waking, eat a normal breakfast that is rich in nourishing carbohydrate, like oatmeal, but also contains some fat and protein, such as nuts or seeds. When exercising later in the day, as many kids do, be sure a balanced breakfast and lunch is eaten, and that an energizing snack such as a banana and peanut butter or homemade energy bites.Excess fat, fiber or protein, as you could find in a salad with chicken, beans and a heavy dressing, may slow digestion keeping energy levels low and leaving someone uncomfortable during exercise.

After a workout, it’s important to replenish fluids right away along with some carbohydrates and protein. This is especially important after exercising for long hours in the heat, which depletes the body of not only fluids, but also energy, more quickly. Something as simple as milk or yogurt right after exercise can do the trick if it’s going to be awhile until your next meal.

Need more help or resources to fuel your active lifestyle or support your active children? Check out the Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, or find a registered dietitian specializing in sports nutrition on EatRight.org.


Kelly is a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics practicing primarily in the greater Philadelphia region. As a speaker and consultant, her expertise lies in performance nutrition, weight management and corporate wellness. Kelly empowers others to use real food and a flexible mentality to optimally fuel the body and mind.  You can find Kelly at @KellyJonesNutrition on Facebook, and @eatreallivewell on Instagram and Twitter.  Her website for Kelly Jones Performance Nutrition is kellyjonesnutrition.com