What Should You Eat to Fuel Your Workout?

When you invest time in your health and wellness at the gym, it is important to make sure that your nutrition matches your effort. If your goal is to get stronger, run farther, or simply fuel your body with high-quality nutrition, keep some basic principles in mind.  

Macronutrient Breakdown 

Each different macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) is involved in pre-workout preparation and post-workout recovery. The simplest advice is for your nutritional routine to include all three of these macronutrients in your routine.  

  • Protein – When you exercise, your body breaks down muscle protein. The rate at which this breakdown occurs depends on the exercise type and intensity of your workout. Before a workout, protein can help prepare the muscles, improve athletic performance, muscle recovery, increased strength and body mass, and increased protein synthesis. Consuming protein after a workout replenishes the amino acid stores that your body needs to repair and rebuild these proteins to become even stronger than they were before your workout. 
  • Carbohydrates – The energy you burn during a workout usually comes from the glycogen stores within your body. Endurance activities such as running, cycling, or using an elliptical machine can deplete these stores more quickly than resistance training. If your favorite type of workout is an endurance activity, you may need to fuel your body with additional carbohydrates after a workout to replenish your glycogen stores.  
  • Fat – Many people avoid fat after a workout because it can slow digestion of your post-workout meal. However, incorporating healthy fats in your routine will not reduce the benefits of the food you eat after a sweat session. Healthy fats may help round out your vitamin and mineral intake, keeping your body healthy in and out. 

Pre and Post-Workout Fuel 

Your nutritional goals should change depending on the type of workout you are doing. However, here are some simple, easily digested foods to supply your body with the right nutrients for recovery and to maximize your workout:  

  • Carbs – Sweet potatoes, quinoa or other grains, fruits, brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain bread or pastas 
  • Protein – Greek yogurt, fatty fish (such as salmon or tuna), and plant-based protein such as tofu 
  • Fats – Avocado, nuts and seeds, or a trail mix consisting of both dried fruits and nuts 

Like most things, balance is key when creating the perfect nutritional profile for your fitness goals. Aim to incorporate at least a portion of each macronutrient in each meal to keep your energy maintained and your muscles strong. 

Different Workout – Different Fuel 

Planning ahead for your workouts can help you better prepare for them nutritionally, but it is key to keep in mind the kind of workout you will be doing so that you can properly fuel your body. Consuming not only the correct macronutrients but also sufficient calories to fuel your workout is key.  

A common mistake when beginning a fitness regimen is not adequately fueling your body with the extra calories it needs to burn extra energy. For example, a fast walk for an hour may burn 370 – 460 additional calories, while a fast run can burn 740 – 920 calories. If you notice extra fatigue during the day or at the end of a workout, make sure you are providing your body with enough fuel to maintain energy throughout your workout.  

Water is Key 

Just a small amount of dehydration can impact your ability to perform athletically, so don’t skip out on the water before, during, and after your workouts. Your body loses water through both sweat and breathing and it may be easier to become dehydrated than you think. Dehydration can lead to dizziness, lethargy, and muscle cramps.  

The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking 17 –20 oz of water around 2 – 3 hours before working out, an additional 8 oz of water 30 minutes before starting to exercise, and 7 – 10 oz every 10 – 20 minutes while exercising. Don’t underestimate how much water you lose through sweat and be sure to fill up your water bottle before hitting the gym!