How To: Fuel Your Fitness

by tinareale on March 20, 2012

We all know diet and exercise work together for the important healthy living equation. We know you need both to make the most out of a healthy lifestyle. However, when it comes to coupling the two together for properly fueling the workouts, things can get tricky. I get a LOT of questions about pre- and post-workout nutrition. What? How much? When? Do I need to bother?

All great questions and I’m going to do my very best to explain it, because it is definitely something to consider and that can certainly help you with energy, endurance, and recovery.

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BEFORE A WORKOUT

  • Consume a higher carbohydrate meal with a mix of slower (whole grains) and faster (sugars from things like fruits, dairy, etc) digesting sources.
  • Take in 1 – 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight 1 to 4 hours before your workout. The longer until your workout, the higher your intake should be.
  • If exercising for more than an hour, consume a high carbohydrate meal 2 to 4 hours before exercise to limit gastrointestinal distress during the workout.
  • Regardless of exercise length, pay attention to your body’s system and how certain meals or sizes of meals sit in your stomach during a workout. To avoid gastrointestinal distress, aim for smaller meals closer to the workout time.
  • Consume 16 oz of water approximately 1-2 hours before exercise.

How I Personally Apply It: I tend to eat 1.5 hours before my long runs. This would suggest I consume about 82 grams of carbohydrate at that time. My pre-run meal of choice = 1 larabar, 1 slice nine grain whole wheat bread, and 1 tbsp each of natural peanut butter and 100% fruit spread. Bam! 80 grams carbohydrate!

Other Great Options:

  • fruit and toast
  • granola or granola bars – like my homemade Crispy Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars!
  • small serving cheese and crackers
  • smoothies
  • turkey/egg/hummus/etc sandwich
  • whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or quinoa bowl with a lean protein source
  • sweet potato

DURING A WORKOUT

  • Fuel is only needed during exercise that lasts for more than an hour.
  • The intake of calories during endurance exercise helps keep the supply of glucose flowing to working muscles, lessening fatigue.
  • Consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate (preferably fast digesting sources of glucose) every hour.
  • Make sure to also consume 20 to 40 oz of water for every hour of exercise.

How I Personally Apply It: During my long runs, I take a GU energy gel that contains 20 grams of fast acting glucose and electrolytes one hour into my exercise, then another every 30-45 minutes after that point, depending on the duration of my run.

Other Great Options:

  • sports drinks
  • sports chews
  • dried fruit
  • Fig Newtons
  • I even know people who swear by Hot Tamales…ahem…Marcia or Coke (my girl, Kara does!)

FOLLOWING A WORKOUT

  • Replenish fatigued muscles with a mix of carbohydrates and protein following exercise.
  • Aim to consume 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight within 30 minutes of completing your workout. Also aim to intake approximately 0.4 to 0.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
  • Continue the refueling process and replenishing your glycogen stores by consuming additional meals with 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight every 2-3 hours.
  • Replenish with 20 oz of water/fluids for every pound of bodyweight lost after exercise.

How I Personally Apply It: SMOOTHIES!! I make my go-to smoothie of 1.5 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 1 frozen banana, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 Tablespoon peanut flour (for PB taste without the fat to optimize post-workout recovery), and a couple handfuls of spinach. 

Other Options:

  • low fat chocolate milk <<<< became a BIG fan after the Publix Georgia Half Marathon I just did
  • low fat milk and whole grain cereal
  • fruit and yogurt
  • protein bars
  • a whole wheat egg burrito
  • one of Kristin’s protein packed treats

As you can see, there are quite a few delicious ways to fuel and get the most out of your workouts and trainings. We have to treat our bodies nicely and give them what they need. Now, eat up! Happy training!

Your Turn…

What are your favorite pre-, during, and post-workout foods?

{ 60 comments }

1 Glenneth March 21, 2012 at 6:19 am

I swear by 1/2 cup of the Mayfield Trumoo chocolate milk after my workouts. Exactly what my body needs!

2 Michelle@PeachyPalate March 21, 2012 at 6:21 am

Great post, just what I need right now. Seriously need to get myself some protein powder (picking up some Sunwarrior this weekend!). 4-5g of protein per kg of body weight post workout seems monumental …so I’m 40kg..I need to aim for 160kg of protein?

3 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 6:49 am

I need to edit that to be more distinct. The little (.) is so small! It’s POINT 4 to POINT 5 grams. Haha!

4 Courtney @ Sweet Tooth, Sweet Life March 21, 2012 at 6:21 am

Great post, Tina! Some of my favorites right there…I just need to figure out a way to make smoothies and not have to clean up the horrible mess I make afterward. Any ideas on that one? Hehe ;)

5 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 6:48 am

Get a baby and have them crawl on the counters licking up the mess. ;)

(and now child protective services will not get my sense of humor and come after me – haha!)

6 Khushboo March 21, 2012 at 6:23 am

Great tips Tina and I like the way you showed how you personally explain it. My post-fuel tends to be breakfast and lately that has consisted of overnight oats topped with strawberries, almonds, peanut butter and protein powder. Overall I think it’s a great recovery meal as it contains a good balance of protein and carbs for recovery, and fats for deliciousness! :-)

7 Lauren March 21, 2012 at 6:43 am

Great tips girl! I tend to only fuel before my runs if I’m running longer than an hour. Other than that, I can usually last off some gatorade.

8 Healthiful Balance March 21, 2012 at 7:03 am

Thanks so much for sharing this with us!! I’ve been looking around for some great tips.. this is just what I needed! :)

I made sure to pin it too! ;)

9 Brittany @ GOtheXtraMile March 21, 2012 at 7:29 am

Awesome post! So many people do not know how to fuel properly. I love smoothies after a workout :D

10 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats March 21, 2012 at 7:30 am

I usually eat something smaller about an hour before a long run, like one piece of Udi’s bread with 1/2 T of peanut butter and 1/2 banana. And I always try and get in my protein and carbs after a long run, but I’m not as good about doing it immediately after other workouts! I need to work on that!

11 Antonia @ healthinspirations March 21, 2012 at 7:33 am

These are some great tips. I swear by post-workout green smoothies and also love coconut water, even though that’s more of a splurge since it’s pretty expensive. Other than that I snack on bananas or natural bars before my workout.

12 Laura@keepinghealthygettingstylish March 21, 2012 at 7:34 am

Great post! This is so informative. I usually go for dried fruit before exercise and a smoothie afterwards. I love dates for my running fuel, they never let me down!

13 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 11:11 am

I always wish I could chew durng my runs but solids do NOT go well with me. Sadly! There would be so many more great options then!

14 jobo March 21, 2012 at 7:45 am

This is a really helpful post Tina. I like how you added your real world examples to apply it and make it real, because in grams, it’s hard to tell, but then when you say what you do, it helps! Fig newtons – yum, that sounds like a great fueling option hehe ;-) I probably should fuel more pre-run than I do, but if I run first thing, I can’t really eat 1.5 hours before or it’s well before I would normally eat, so that’s sort of a conundrum (eating at 5 am? not my ideal I guess!) but those runs are usually not very long (hour or so), so I guess that might be ok to do?

15 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 11:12 am

I have to force myself to eat at 5 am for Saturday long runs. I hate it! But it does make a world of difference for me.

16 Lauren March 21, 2012 at 7:51 am

Great food ideas! I’m really good about fueling during long runs (I switch between hammer gels and dates every 30 min and starting at 45 min), but I definitely need to get better about water during runs. Whenever I don’t drink a little water with a gu/date during a run, my stomach cramps up for a few minutes (not fun!).

17 Lee March 21, 2012 at 8:22 am

I usually have pb toast before a run. If I’m running more than an hour, I’ll have a Gu in the middle of it. I just sort of eat whatever after. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, but I just eat whatever my next meal is.

18 Carissa @Fit2Flex March 21, 2012 at 8:37 am

Great post. I like how you approached it by sharing how you personally reach those goals. I find many people have the hardest grasp on pre-workout eating and they often do it too soon to their workout.

19 Jess March 21, 2012 at 8:39 am

This is an awesome post, I love how you apply it to your own life, with your own twist on the advice or guidance. That’s so important – making it your own, making it work for you!

My biggest dilemma continues to be pre-run fuel for a long run. I typically can’t run with very much in my system or I run very “heavy” which I hate. I also don’t love having to wait to digest before I run (I’m antsy lol) so I’m sort of struggling with how I’ll handle the longer runs for marathon training. I’m going to fiddle with it during this half training cycle to see what I can get away with both in terms of pre-run fuel and in terms of how long I wait before I start running. I’m thinking maybe a banana and a bit of PB would be ok without much digestion time – but something more substantial like two slices of toast with the pb/banana might be too much unless I’m prepared to wait an hour or more for it to settle. How long do you typically wait before you run on a long run day after you eat?

20 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 11:13 am

1 – 1.5 hours. Yea. That means Im up at butt crack early on Saturday mornings. Not a fan of force feeding then, but I’ve learned its worth it. :)

21 Yellow Haired Girl March 21, 2012 at 8:41 am

This is great! Love the breakdown. My “go to” will always be a smoothie. Love slurping those suckers down :)

22 Sarah K. @ The Pajama Chef March 21, 2012 at 8:42 am

great ideas! i always have oatmeal before long runs…. it’s about the only thing i can manage to eat before running.

23 Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean March 21, 2012 at 8:46 am

great post! smoothies are definitely my go-to post workout…but i need to work on my preworkout meals

24 Jana @ Newly Wife Healthy Life March 21, 2012 at 8:53 am

This is great information! I find that sometimes I have a hard time fueling and can definitely feel it in my stomach. I will have a granola bar or rice cake with pb about an hour and a half or two hours before, but I find my body may not digest that fast. I do love smoothies after long runs though! Do you suggest any pre- or post- fuel for shorter work outs ranging from 30-45 minutes?

25 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 11:15 am

You could probably eat something lighter for those – like just a piece of fruit or a yogurt. Or just have a standard meal that is balanced a couple hours before.

26 Lindsay @ Lindsay's List March 21, 2012 at 8:56 am

Great post for all those questioning if they’re fueling properly!! I know I struggle with this – especially the DURING part!

27 Cheryl @ Happy is the new healthy March 21, 2012 at 9:09 am

Great post–and I like how you include what YOU choose. Real world examples are key! :)

28 Jamie @ Don't Forget the Cinnamon March 21, 2012 at 9:34 am

I love toast with banana and pb as preworkout fuel!!!
Typically, my workouts end up being just before either lunch or dinner so that serves as my postworkout fuel.

29 Amanda Perry @ Sistas of Strength March 21, 2012 at 9:36 am

Great suggestions. There is definitely no set in stone way to eat before, during and after a workout. A lot of it is trial and error w/ what works for you. I don’t run, but I like training on an empty stomach first thing in the am. If I’m doing a hard workout I’ll take some type of pre-workout drink or amino acids. Then after I usually have a protein shake w/ banana, almond milk and protein or protein oats or eggs w/ brown rice toast. It’s so important to refuel after a workout!

30 Ashley @ My Food 'N' Fitness Diaries March 21, 2012 at 9:44 am

thank you for this!! i’m starting to train for my first half marathon, and i honestly don’t know a ton about fueling for long runs. this helped a ton!

31 Tara Burner March 21, 2012 at 9:45 am

Great post Tina!
pinning…

32 Lindsay @ In Sweetness and In Health March 21, 2012 at 9:51 am

Great post Tina! I actually don’t usually think about how I’m fueling it…oops! Although, Chris informed me this week that the chocolate greek yogurt I’ve been eating after my workouts is great for recovery :)

33 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 11:16 am

Sure is!

34 Cat @ Breakfast to Bed March 21, 2012 at 10:11 am

I like semi-frozen chocolate milk post run. shaken like a frappucino.

35 Heather (Heather's Dish) March 21, 2012 at 10:22 am

i love your “how i apply it” parts…definitely needing some ideas over here these days!

36 Sam March 21, 2012 at 10:33 am

I am lactose intolerant and have to drink the lactose free milks. I have seen a chocolate one, do you think that this would have the same post workout benefit as regular chocolate milk?

37 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 11:17 am

It should. The main reason choc milk is recommended is because of the ratio of the carbs (sugar from the chocolate/natural sugars from the milk) and the protein. If they are similar then it shouldn’t be any different than standard milk as to post workout recovery. :)

38 Sabrina @ Radioactive Runner March 21, 2012 at 10:37 am

I normally don’t eat anything before working out unless I workout later in the day which isn’t very often. I normally just wake up and head out the door. During – if I’m running longer than 16km then I’ll take some gu chomps or gels with me and post workout I love making a green smoothie with chocolate milk. my favourite!

Great post, Tina!

39 Michele @ nycrunningmama March 21, 2012 at 10:40 am

This is a great post, Tina! I often forget what and how much I should be consuming pre/during/post workouts, especially long runs. I love that you included a segment about how you apply it!! Makes it helpful to see some combinations :)

40 Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table March 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

Love this post. I had not idea I needed so many carbs PRE-workout. I focus so much on recovery fuel that I probably neglect the before. Post-workout I love protein smoothie – liquid sweet potato pie is my fav.

41 Kara March 21, 2012 at 11:12 am

The day Gu comes out with a Cola flavored gel will be the day that my life is complete :)

42 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 11:18 am

They do need to do that, don’t they?! I’m actually surprised they haven’t already!

43 Ali March 21, 2012 at 11:30 am

After a workout my go to’s are smoothies and PB on a bagel. Great tips!

44 Ali March 21, 2012 at 11:31 am

PS- I’m adding you to my blog roll because you have a ton of great information, and you are super motivating ;) .

45 Jenna@FitForLife March 21, 2012 at 11:43 am

I’m often so focused on pre-workout and getting ready for the gym (probably because I need all the help I can get) and I so often completely disregard the importance of post workout activities and nutrition. Thank you for this article as a guide to help remind me of what I should and can do after a workout in order to take care of my body.

46 Sue March 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I learned so much about fueling during marathon training. I, too, like to get up super-early in order to eat and, ahem, get things moving before embarking on a long run. Swedish Fish were my go-to snack during hour + runs, and sometimes during the really looong runs all that motivated me to finish was the smoothie I’d have once I got home! Vega protein powder + almond milk + PB & Company Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter + banana = YUM!
Thanks for an awesome post!

47 Cate March 21, 2012 at 12:15 pm

great tips!
During a run I love Honey Stinger chews, they are like gummy bears. I have also used dried fruit before too.
Ice cold chocolate milk after an intense workout is the best! It just tastes so good and I know the mix of protein and carbs is perfect then.

48 Kelly@Nutrition-Spotlight March 21, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Thanks for these tips, you really know about fueling a workout! Sometimes its hard to keep in mind that food is simply fuel for the body, but its very important to remember that fueling your body in the right way when staying on a fitness schedule is vital to your health. I usually like to get a small meal in 2 hours before a workout (an apple and peanut butter is my fav) and then drink a tall glass of water along with a small coffee about an hour before. This has really helped me be able to power through a tough workout and stay motivated to complete it!

49 Lisa March 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Awesome ideas in this post! Usually pre workout I actually don’t eat anything, since I get up so early. I should really start having something at least! And after I’ll just eat breakfast!

50 Lauren @ Oatmeal after Spinning March 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Just wondering your opinion on super early morning workouts… I teach spin class at 5:30 am, and usually do a 30 min workout beforehand. I roll out of bed at 4:30 and leave the house in about 15 minutes. I usually have 1/2 a banana beforehand … sometimes I’ll have a spoonful of peanut butter too- but I can’t do much that early. I drink some whey protein mixed with water right after my class, then eat breakfast (usually oatmeal or something) when I get to work 45 min later.
In the afternoon, I usually just use what I ate from lunch as fuel, and recover with a good mix of protein, fat and carbs after. :)

51 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I think that sounds like pretty good choices. Something small and fast acting before, something to help with the during and endurance, then your breakfasts are always balanced for after. The only suggestion I would have would be to maybe have the other 1/2 banana with the whey to get some glucose (well technically fructose) in during as well. :)

52 Samantha March 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I always go for a glass of oj, a whole wheat bagel with PB/Honey, and a banana before a long run.

During long runs I use hammer gels, honey stinger chews, and sport beans.

Post run I like either pasta with something like chicken or cheese and beans, a smoothie, and sometimes even homemade “healthy” nachos!

53 Emily @FamilyNLifeLV March 21, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Those are some great tips! Love the post workout ideas. I am always looking for those!!

54 Annie @ What's Annie Making? March 21, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Thanks for such an informative post. I usually eat peanut butter toast in the morning before a long run. I love the margarita flavored gu blocks during my run, and then a nice cool green smoothie after.

55 Maggie March 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Thank you for this post!! As I’ve started running I have definitely had quite the time trying to find out what my body needs and can handle before runs! I was doing pb toast + half a banana sliced on it before races (5ks and 8ks), but I found I was getting cramps so now I’ve just been having half a banana before runs and it’s been much better. I’m running a 10k Saturday and plan to have half a banana with some pb about an hour before the race, I’m afraid I’ll get super hungry or lose energy during the race but the stomach cramps I get from a bigger meal make running SO painful and challenging.

56 Lauren March 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I also wanted to share something really interesting I learned in my nutritional biochem class about fueling during exercise (especially endurance – running!). Branched chain amino acids (like alanine, valine) and lactic acid made by the muscle can both be used as fuel, along with glucose, and some gels now make add these amino acids. I know Hammer Gel does, and their chocolate gel tastes like chocolate syrup. I don’t know how much great of an effect they have, but the metabolism in our bodies is so interesting to me!

57 Candy March 22, 2012 at 9:47 am

Great info! Thanks for posting!

58 Dianna May 30, 2012 at 12:29 pm

This is where I get so confused about food and workouts – what to eat and when, and then I just give up. I am a retired broadway dance and have NEVER had to watch my weight but now at 39, retired from dancing and post baby – I am super un-toned and need to lose about 15 pounds…I am trying the South Beach diet (AGAIN) and am trying my best to find the time to do the Physique 57 workout three times a week with a 15 min HIIT workout 2 times a week but it’s hard. I work fulltime and am a single mom of a 2 year old…HELP!!!

59 Roshan Baskota September 3, 2012 at 10:29 am

Great info. Thank you for your fitness tips. This has helped me a lot.

60 Mary Lawrence August 30, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I’ve had problems with my pre-workout nutrition. Thanks for the great advice.

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