Snacking on the move

Photo by Jack Leahy,

How to fuel during that long ride, run or hike

— By Casey Jones

When a snack attack hits it can be hard to resist. Thoughts of potato chips, candies, and cookies may come to mind.

For the busy athlete, these vending machine offerings aren’t an option. Snacking healthily can be difficult with a lack of nutritious options on the go. What’s even harder is to know what to munch on in the middle of a marathon or 50-kilometre hike.

We talked to some nutrition and endurance experts to get some tips on how to fuel up when on the run.

Timing is key

Before an event like a race, hike, or game, it’s important to nourish yourself properly — and not just the day before. Canadian Olympic Team nutritionist Angela Dufour says a “pasta party” the night before won’t make up for lack of nutritional focus in the days and weeks leading up to competition. What’s more is that loading up with pasta may make you feel bloated due to water retention.

Instead, three hours before your event, fill up with a balanced meal of lean protein, carbs, plentiful fats, and lots of fluid, Dufour says. If you can tolerate food before a race, try a meal with little protein and high quality carbs, like oatmeal with fruit and peanut butter, 1 to 2 hours before. If you’re like Canadian national team wrestler Sam Stewart you may opt for her favorite match day snack of pretzels; a great option full of carbs and sodium, an electrolyte.

In-Race Nutrition Tips

For long-distance runners, staying fuelled during a race can be difficult. Marathoners, like Dalhousie University’s Clara Lownie, who recently qualified for the Boston Marathon, say there are more options than ever for in-race nutrition. Energy gels contain high quality carbohydrates and electrolytes like sodium and potassium to keep racers in check.


Although it’s important to stay hydrated before and during activity, it’s important not to over-do it. Hyponatremia, or low sodium in the blood, can be caused when drinking too much dilutes our body to critically low levels of electrolytes, and can be just as dangerous as being dehydrated.

A study from the New England Journal of Medicine showed that 13 per cent of runners who gave a blood sample after the 2002 Boston Marathon were hyponatremic.

This means that these racers drank too much water and not enough electrolytes throughout the race.

To combat this problem, electrolyte tablets can be dissolved in your in-race drink. Sipping on Gatorade-like beverages also do the trick.

Lownie says that she’s seen some racers that make their own carb-laden gels, like one that included blended chia seeds, sweet potato, and banana. If this doesn’t sound appetizing to you, there are chews and blocks that have similar nutritional value on the market.

When packing for a long hike, prioritize calorie-dense foods to save space.

When packing for a long hike, prioritize calorie-dense foods to save space.

Nourish your hiking or camping trip

For the rest of us that can’t handle the gruelling 42 kilometres of a marathon (myself included), snacking right is still important in lower-intensity settings like a long hike or canoe trip. To pack light for a long trip, it’s important to prioritize calorie-dense foods to save space. You want to rely on complex carbohydrates, and a bit of fat to stay energized for a long haul.

Some good options include trail mix, bagels, energy bars, and dried fruit. If doing an overnight stay on a hike, it may be wise to pack a protein source like canned tuna or dried jerky to accompany carbohydrates from pasta or instant rice.

Whether you’re trying to break marathon records or enjoy a hike on a beautiful Fall day, staying hydrated and nourished is key.

Casey Jones is a master's in science student at Dalhousie University, where he studies the link between the human microbiome and pediatric Crohn’s disease in Nova Scotians.