How to Fuel for a Great Workout

Now that the weather is heating up and summer is just around the corner, it’s a beautiful time to get outside for some exercise! If you’re doing any strenuous activity, it’s important to fuel your body with the right foods to feel your best. If you’re going into your workouts feeling sluggish, your pre-workout meal (or lack thereof) could be the culprit. Read on for some practical tips based on sports nutrition research to help you fuel before, during and after your workout.

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Before You Workout

Figuring out what to eat before exercise can be confusing, especially when it comes to timing your meals to avoid bloating or tummy grumbles when you want to workout. Try these tips:

3-4 Hours Pre-Workout:

  • Have a balanced meal containing carbohydrates, protein and fat such as whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce and lean meat or oatmeal with soy milk, nuts and fruit

  • The more time you have before exercise, the bigger the meal can be

1-2 Hours Pre-Workout:

  • Start your workout properly hydrated by drinking about 2-3 cups of water 60-90 minutes beforehand

  • Have a snack with simple carbs and some protein like a fat-free yogurt cup or a banana with two teaspoons of natural peanut butter

<30 Minutes Pre-Workout:

  • Liquid forms of carbs like a small fruit smoothie or glass of milk can be well tolerated closer to exercise

  • Limit foods high in fibre, protein and fat right before you workout as they take a long time to digest and can upset your stomach

During Your Workout

  • Keep a water bottle handy during exercise and sip frequently as tolerated

  • If you’re in a hot environment or exercising vigorously, aim to drink about 1 cup of water every 15 minutes

  • For prolonged heavy training, a sports drink like Gatorade can trigger thirst and provide about 6 g of carbs in 100 ml, so 1 cup every 10-15 minutes will meet both fluid and carb needs

  • Unless your workout lasts 2-3 hours or you exercise at a high intensity for 45-60 minutes, it is not necessary to consume carbs (like performance gels) during exercise 

After You Workout

  • Rehydrate with water immediately after exercise

  • Eat a snack or meal rich in carbs and protein to maximize glycogen replenishment, optimally within 2 hours following your workout

  • To help build muscle through resistance training, aim to get 20 g of protein in a bolus within 2 hours after working out

  • Whey is a “fast” protein taken up more quickly by muscles than casein, a “slow” protein, making it a great post-workout choice

  • Soy protein isolate is a great alternative protein source for vegans

For the average person doing moderate-to-vigorous activity, it’s not necessary to use protein powders. Greek yogurt with fruit, eggs with whole wheat toast, or a tofu veggie stir-fry with rice are also great post-workout.

If you like the convenience of protein powders and crave a cold smoothie after your workout, try my go-to chocolate banana smoothie that packs 20 g of protein:

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Ryan Stallard