How to Incorporate Carbs During Exercise

My previous blog, "Are Carbs Important During Exercise?" is all about fueling with carbohydrates (CHO) during exercise. Today I discuss how to apply all that heavy information and provide examples of what that looks like during a 2 hour run, ride, or any form of endurance exercise.

Carbohydrate Guidelines DURING Endurance Exercise (How Much?)

During endurance exercise, you can significantly improve your stamina by consuming adequate carbohydrates. 

  • If exercise lasts 1 hour or less, eating during exercise isn't as crucial. You can grab a bite to eat after your one hour workout.
  • If exercising longer than 1 hour, eat 30-60 grams of CHO within that hour.
  • If exercise continues past 2 hours, increase your CHO intake to 45-90 grams of CHO per hour until you're finished exercising. 

Things to consider when fueling and hydrating while cycling or running:

  • Figure out what foods and fluids you tolerate. Experiment during training and prior to race day. Find what tastes and digests best for you. 
  • How comfortable are you with your bike-handling/eating skills? 
  • Consider wearing a jersey or jacket with multiple, easy-to-reach pockets to carry snacks. You can grab the food while riding and avoid the need to stop to eat.
  • If you prefer to drink your CHO, bring enough sports drink or other liquid CHO for the ride/run.
  • If running, consider placing water along your running route ahead of time or consider wearing a hydration belt or Camelback.
  • For longer distances, consider bringing powdered sports drink packets to which you simply add water and shake it up in your water bottle.
  • Be sure to drink every 15 to 20 minutes. Remember, you want to prevent dehydration. Once you’re dehydrated, you won’t catch up and your performance will suffer. Important: Drink to thirst and to match your fluid losses, which can vary tremendously depending on your fitness level, sweat rate, and weather conditions.

There are a ton of different ways to eat and/or drink carbohydrates during exercise. I always recommend starting to fuel with carb around the 45-50 minute mark. This ensures you stay “ahead of the game” versus waiting too long before you eat. Once fueling and hydration fall behind, it’s very difficult to play catch up, and usually doesn’t feel very good.

When it comes to what to buy, there is no "best choice"; you simply need to experiment to determine what products satisfy your taste buds and settle well. You can choose commercial sport foods or “real food” (see list below). 

Nutrition Plan Examples (ideally, you're starting your exercise 100% fueled and hydrated)

Nutrition Plan Example 1 (Sports Drink only):

0-60 minutes: 8oz. sport drink (14g CHO) + water

60-120 minutes: 16-24 oz. sport drink (28-42g CHO)

Nutrition Plan Example 2:

0-60 minutes: 8oz. sport drink (14g CHO) + water

60-120 minutes: 12-16 oz. sport drink (21-28g CHO) + energy gel (25g CHO*)

Nutrition Plan Example 3:

0-60 minutes:  2 pieces GU chomps (12g CHO) + water

60-120 minutes: 12 oz. sport drink (21g CHO) + 2 pieces GU chomps (12g CHO) + 1 packet jelly belly sport beans (25g CHO) + water

Nutrition Plan Example 4:

0-60 minutes: 8 oz. sport drink (14g CHO) + water

60-120 minutes: 4 pieces Clif Shot Bloks (24g CHO) + 1 energy gel (25g CHO*) + water

Nutrition Plan Example 5:

0-60 minutes: 1 energy gel (25g CHO*) + water

60-120 minutes: 12-16 oz. sport drink (21-28g CHO) + 1 energy gel (25 g CHO*)

Nutrition Plan Example 6:

0-60 minutes: 1 energy gel (25g CHO*) + water

60-120 minutes: 2 energy gels (50 g CHO*) + water

Nutrition Plan Example 7:

0-60 minutes: 8oz. sport drink (14g CHO) + water

60-120 minutes: 12-16 oz. sport drink (21-28g CHO) + 1 banana, 7-7½” long (27g CHO)  

*the number of grams of carbohydrates varies slightly from brand to brand.

Popular "Real Food" Snacks During Endurance Exercise

Dried figs

Energy bar


Tootsie Rolls

Hard candies

Mini chocolate bars

Gummy candies

Sports beans

Vanilla cookies



Chocolate Milk

Cheers to finding what works for you, successful training, and kicking booty on race day!

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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