How Many Calories???

By Joanna K Chodorowska, BA, NC, TPTH, METS – HMP

endurance food

When you go for a run, a ride, a swim, or do a tri, do you wonder – will I have enough energy for the whole thing? And when you get to longer distances, like a 3-4 hour ride or even a tri, then you really start to wonder how many calories per hour should I be inhaling? Can my body take in that many calories? Can I process that many calories? Oh, what kind of calories should I be taking in? How do I know if I amusing the right amount?

Loaded questions with simple answer – you need to experiment to find out what really works for you. But what I will do for you is give you a better range to work with that may help you with your calculations. It will be different for your activity, but it will also change based on the intensity, too and whether you are male or female. Generally, the more you have to carry your body weight in the exercise, the fewer calories your body will be able to take in. Swimming being an exception unless at the pool.

I am sure many of you have read about taking in 500 calories per hour because you are burning over 750 per hour (e.g. Mark Allen, pro triathlete can do that, why not you??). Well, first off, most people cannot digest more than 300 calories per hour. When you go from riding a bike to running, then the ability to digest and process food diminishes even more, and some might be able to take in a measly 100 calories per hour, usually in the form of a gel or sports drink. You have to test out a lot of products and a lot of combinations to find out what really works for you. And then it all changes when you change the intensity or add heat and humidity (think fewer calories, not more).

calories and weight

For me, I use a sports drink with maltodextrin as the primary base for all my activities – biking, swimming and longer than two hour runs. I try to avoid any sugar, sucrose, fructose and definitely avoid artificial sweeteners, rice syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). I also avoid preservatives and artificial colors. When I go for longer rides, let’s say three to four hours, I have a bottle of sports drink (about 100 calories – I weigh about 140 and am female – a male that same weight may need closer to 150 calories per hour for the same product) and I have a second bottle with a more dense product which has some soy protein in it, and that one is about 150 calories. (Note, these are calories per hour, 1 bottle per hour) I also carry a flask of gel which I take as needed. The longer the ride, I take more powder to refill with water n ice at a gas station or convenience store. I also will pack a snack of baked sweet potato slices with some almond butter made into sandwiches. That allows me to eat some ‘real food’ calories – only a couple of slices and I am good to go for another couple of hours. That adds some 100 calories because I can only eat 1, maybe 2, of these ‘sandwiches’ at any time, each one being about 50-60 calories. If I still need a boost of energy somewhere along the way, this is where the gels come in handy – quick energy boost with very little digestion needed. You could also try dried fruit, too – buy it or make your own. For that 3-4 hour ride, I generally shoot for about 200 calories per hour. Keep in mind I used to be able to take in far more, but I realize that was part of the reason I didn’t really lose weight when training! I was eating too much on the bike.

I have tried just straight electrolyte solution and gels for my longer rides, but I seem to fade after 2 hours on that. Even with taking more gels. But my training partner, who weighs about 165 lbs, can do hours on just electrolyte drinks and gels. Now he also eats those sweet potato sandwiches, but only when I bring them! So you do have to try several combinations, and see what works for you. And with calories per hour, your goal is to find out how few calories you can take in without losing energy. Use the guide on the right as a general range for what I would suggest.

Now when running or swimming at the pool, I tend do way less and only stick with gels and electrolyte solution or is use gels, water and electrolyte capsules. I find dehydrating a far worse issue for me than calories taken in. And for those running a marathon distance event, adding a protein based product can help with energy levels staying more constant. I know when I used to run them, that was what I used along with gels to fuel my races. If doing an Olympic or half IM distance tri, then it all changes yet again! I usually take a gel prior to the swim, no matter what the distance. Then for an Olympic, I can use either a soy protein based sports drink, or an electrolyte solution basing it on 150-200 calories per hour on the bike. I take an extra gel in case I need a boost in energy. Then for the run, I switch to just gels and water with my electrolyte capsules. The races will always have water! What I train with on the run is never used in races, so unless I want to take my sports drink with me, I just use water. So I train that way, too.


Joanna ChodorowskaJoanna K Chodorowska, BA, NC, TPTH, METS – HMP is a holistic sports nutrition coach, energy worker and athlete. She identifies what is causing your symptoms of ill health and uses real food nutrition, The Path To Heal energy work, Nutrition Response Testing and essential oils to bring the body back into balance and into vibrant health. Joanna helps fix the issues for good.

Real food to fuel your active life….Nutrition for body, mind, spirit and sport! 

For more information, please visit www.nutrition-in-motion.net.