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.
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:
Whole Grain Bread
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:
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:
Eggs/ Egg Whites
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.