Fueling for Your Workouts

by Grace Iberle, RDN, LDN, CHC, CPT

Properly fueling your body can be the difference between having a mediocre workout and a fantastic workout!  Being able to finish your workout strong starts with what food you put into your body.  It is important to remember some foods such as foods high in fiber (think beans) or healthy fats (think avocado) are great for you nutritionally but are not a great food to have before a workout. Recovery nutrition is important to help our bodies refuel and repair.  Focusing on the amount and type of food before, during, and after your workouts is important.

What to eat before exercising –

What we eat before exercising will fill our gas tanks to push ourselves through a tough workout. Consuming carbohydrate-rich meals or snacks will increase energy availability. Including small amounts of protein will assist in reducing muscle soreness by starting the recovery and muscle rebuilding process during exercise as opposed to waiting until afterwards.

What foods to choose –  Easy-to-digest carbohydrates, low in fiber, small amounts of protein

Liquids digest more rapidly, so if you have less than 30 minutes before your workout, consider liquids

Examples: granola or cereal bar, low-fat fruited yogurt, oatmeal, cream of wheat or grits, mini bagel, banana or orange sections, toast

What to eat and drink during exercise –

If you are working out for under an hour, water is best option and no extra fueling is required. If you are working out at moderate-intensity for more than an hour, opt for 30-60 g of carbohydrates per hour and stay hydrated with water or a sports drink.

What foods to choose – Food and Fluid Examples: sports drinks, diluted fruit juice, carbohydrate gels, water, energy bars, gummy candies or jelly beans, banana, plain mini bagel

What to eat after exercise –

After exercising, we need to refuel to help our body recover from the strenuous workout. The goals are to restore fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat, replenish muscle fuel used during practice (carbohydrates), and repair damaged muscle tissue and regenerate muscle with high quality protein. It is crucial to begin recovery 30-60 minutes after your workout to enhance recovery due to an increased heart rate and blood pressure, enhancing nutrient delivery to muscles, quicker glycogen replenishment initiation tissue repair, and our body switching from muscle breakdown to muscle building. Recovery is an all-day process so continue to eat well-balanced meals and snacks to promote optimal recovery.

For a light training session, the next meal or small post-training snack is sufficient. For a moderate to hard training session aim for 0.5 g/lb of body weight of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and 15-25 g of high quality protein to repair and regenerate muscle

Carbohydrate Examples: fruit, fruit juice, low-fat chocolate milk, oatmeal, sandwich bread, English muffin, tortilla, rice, farro, quinoa, cooked pasta

Protein Examples: low fat chocolate milk, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese, jerky, fish, nuts, seeds, edamame, beans, deli meat, eggs

Important Tips to Remember

Every body is different - experiment with different foods and beverages before regular exercise sessions to determine what your body tolerates. Don’t wait until race day to try something new!