How To Fuel Your Next Workout
Whether your workout goal is to lose weight, gain strength or just be healthier overall, knowing how to fuel your workout will help you reach your goal faster and minimize frustration. True, lasting results come from consistency + the foods you eat.
Sports nutrition can get really confusing when it comes to type, amount, and timing of food and fluid intake to promote optimal health and performance. In this post, I simplify how you can make the most of your workouts by choosing foods that will give you the energy you need and stimulate the lean muscle growth you want.
Carbohydrates can get a bad reputation, and it's about time we change that. Carbs are our bodies main source of fuel. Nutritionists like to use the analogy of gas in the tank. Carbs are the premium gas that makes your body run efficiently. Hence, we need carbs to fuel our workouts!
It’s all about which carbs are best for the job.
For workouts that last less than an hour, eat easily digestible carbohydrates for quick bursts of energy. Think PB&J sandwich, a fruit smoothie, dried fruit, or a banana with peanut butter.
If your workouts are longer, lasting more than an hour, eat more complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs have added fiber, which slows down digestion and provide an extended release effect. Think, whole grains and foods made from them like oatmeal, whole-grain bread, beans, legumes and starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas.
When should I eat before my workout?
Timing can vary and will depend on the individual. Be careful not to eat too soon before. It's not ideal to digest your food while you work out, as it can lead to some stomach discomfort.
The sweet spot is to eat 1-3 hours before your workout.
For you early risers working out in the morning, you should feel out what works best for you. Eating a hearty dinner the night before may be a better option than trying to eat so early.
- Whole grain toast + nut butter
- Greek yogurt + mixed berries
- Oatmeal/cereal + milk
- Fruit smoothie
- Dried fruit + nut mix
Notice, each of these options also contains protein. Eating protein before your workouts may help prime your muscles to undergo the rebuilding and repairing process.
Protein functions in our body to build, repair and replace body tissues.
We tend to only think about our muscles when we talk about protein and exercise, but it’s important to note, our bones are also in play here. The strength of our bones can, literally, make or break our longevity as we grow older. Dietary protein and physical activity are absolutely necessary to ensure we have strong muscles and bones to carry us throughout our entire lives.
When you do resistance type exercises, like weight lifting, yoga, or strength training, you’re essentially breaking apart your muscle tissue so you're able to rebuild stronger muscle during recovery.
Eating adequate amounts of protein will supply muscle cells with the amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to help build muscle mass, strength, power, and stamina. (1)
Think of Legos for a second. You build an awesome house with all the Legos you have. But afterward, you decide you want an even bigger house. You first need to tear it down and get more Legos to rebuild your house. The same goes for our muscles. You need protein in your diet to build even more muscle mass.
When is the best time to have protein?
After you've finished your workout, research has shown your muscles are in a peak state of rebuilding. It's a good idea to take advantage of the window and ensure your body has enough protein in your system to rebuild stronger muscles.
Some research shows the window extends 2 hours post workout.
I like to think, the sooner the better. But don’t over complicate it. Just make sure your next meal has adequate protein.
Ultimately the best timing is throughout the day.
It’s important to space out your protein intake throughout the day, rather than eating large amounts in one meal. Your body can only absorb so much protein at once. After it reaches a certain threshold, which is about 50 grams in one meal, you eliminate it through your urine.
In other words, your body can’t absorb more than 50 grams of protein in one sitting. This is a big reason why supplements aren’t always the best option. You’re essentially buying all these powders to just pee ‘em out. (But that’s a whole other topic, I’ll cover soon.)
This means each meal, yes even breakfast, and each snack should have some sort of protein source.
What makes a food a good source of protein?
This is when reading the Nutrition Label is important. A good protein snack should have about 5-12g of protein and each meal should have about 20-40g protein.
Research has shown that consuming ~30 grams of protein in a meal can stimulate muscle growth.
My Go To ‘Muscle Building’ Snacks
- Siggi’s Yogurt
- Blueberry Clif Bar
- Larry & Larry’s Cookies
- Trader Joe’s Trail Mix
- Manchego cheese with crackers
- Peanut butter on whole wheat toast
- Roasted Chickpeas
- Roasted Broad Beans Crisps
- Chocolate milk
Drinking plenty of fluids with electrolytes throughout the day will prevent cramping and early exhaustion during workouts. Thirst is a sign of dehydration so it shouldn't be something you do when you feel thirsty.
Electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, are ions that are involved in energy production in our muscle tissues. If carbohydrates are the premium gas, than electrolytes are the motor oil in your car. They don't make the engine run, but they're crucial in keeping everything running smoothly.
Timing is more fluid. (Get it, get itt?) Drink water + fluids with electrolytes throughout the day, during long workouts (>1hr), and after every workout.
Water is always great but it lacks electrolytes. Try to incorporate sports drink or coconut water in your fluid regimen. Or add electrolyte tablets (my favorite is Nuun) to your water bottle.
I don't stress about the sugar in Gatorade since I know my body will burn that up rapidly during or after my workout. If your concern with your sugar intake, G2 Gatorade is lower in sugar or opt for coconut water.