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How to Fuel for Workouts

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

By Braeden Yacobucci, RDN/RD, LD


Everyone loves a good, gruesome workout. You feel accomplished afterwards, you’ve got the

endorphins flowing, but what next? Is it a protein shake? Is it a full meal? What about before the

workout? What fueled you during those intense bicep curls? There is a lot that goes into the

workout besides the exercises themselves. Pre, during, and post workout nutrition play much

larger roles than you may think. Let’s talk about what and when you should be eating to get the

maximum benefit out of your next gym session.

Pre-Workout Nutrition

It is pivotal to consume the right foods before your workout. Exercising on an empty stomach

can lead to undesirable effects. Your body wants to use carbohydrates as fuel for exercise, but when it does not have enough of its preferred fuel source it will burn glycogen (stored carbs) or fat as the energy source. This may sound nice if you are trying to lose weight, but these forms of energy storage are there to fuel your brain when glucose levels are low in your body, so they’re kind of important. The other option, burning protein, breaks down the very thing you are trying to build…your muscle. Definitely not ideal. So, what should you consume before your workout? Here are some great natural pre-workout options:

Leafy Greens

Whole Grain Bread






Rice Cakes

All the foods mentioned above are great sources of complex (healthy) carbohydrates which

makes them ideal to fuel your body during a workout. Depending on the size of the pre-workout

meal, be sure to eat 2-3 hours before your workout to make sure the food is fully digested for proper utilization. Exercising on a full, undigested stomach can lead digestive issues which means your body will not be able to fully utilize those carbohydrates. In addition to carbs pre-workout, a cup of coffee is a great natural option to pair with your food for that extra jolt during your workout. So now that you’re fueled up and ready to get your sweat on at the gym, let’s talk about nutrition during the workout.

During the Workout

Though you probably don’t hear about it as much, what you consume during the workout can be

just as important as what you consume before or after the workout. The first thing to make sure

you’re getting enough of is water. The importance of water in everyday life cannot be

undermined. The amount of functions water has in the body is astounding, and it does even more

functions during exercise such as regulating body temperature and joint lubrication. It also helps

transport necessary nutrients throughout to keep your workout going, which leads to the

next thing you may consider consuming during a workout: glucose. Glucose is the most basic

form of sugar. How can this help during the workout? As your body is working, glucose can be pumped into your veins for fuel. Think of it like pouring fuel into a plane to complete a long flight. Those extra calories help to replenish what is being used in the workout. My reccomended product to consume during your workout is Tailwind Nutrition’s “Endurance Fuel”. This blend of calories, electrolytes and hydration is perfect to consume when you’re in need of more fuel. I have personally

used this product and can attest to its awesomeness. I noticed myself having more energy

during my workouts, especially when I used their caffeinated endurance fuel with the extra kick

of caffeine (I did not consume coffee before the workouts with caffeinated endurance fuel, that

would be overkill). This stuff dissolves COMPLETELY in your water bottle and every flavor I

tried tasted amazing (I liked the green tea the best).

Post Workout Nutrition

Most people will just consume a big ol’ protein shake after a workout. While this is a pretty good

option, we should pair this with carbohydrates to maximize recovery. The protein is required to rebuild the muscle you just broke down while the carbs replenish glycogen (stored

energy) that was used for the workout. Your muscles store a good amount of glycogen for immediate use during exercise. Again, it may sound nice to not replenish the stored glycogen if you are trying to lose weight, but there is a huge difference between losing fat storage and depleting our glycogen and water storage. Therefore, choosing to not replenish your glycogen storage does not set you up for long term fat loss success.

Consuming protein after a workout both increases protein synthesis while simultaneously

decreasing protein degradation. Whey protein is your ideal source if you are utilizing a protein powder, however if you are vegan or lactose intolerant than a rice and pea blend may be best suited. Remember that most protein powders lack in carbohydrates. Therefore, you will need to pair your protein with a snack such as:

Sweet Potato

Chocolate Milk



Dark, leafy veggies


We always prefer the whole food option. Not only is it more satisfying, but whole food sources provide more bio available nutrients for your body to utilize. Some whole food options include:

Grilled chicken

Eggs/ Egg Whites

Greek Yogurt

Cottage Cheese

Lean Beef


What you do outside of the gym has a massive impact on your performance and recovery. I always tell people a healthy lifestyle is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. Sure, you may place a larger importance on exercise if you are trying to get big or lose weight, but without the proper nutrition you will see no results. Keep these things in mind the next time you are about to hit the weights.

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