Best Foods to Fuel Your Workouts
Food is fuel, and this is especially true when you’re exercising. Whether or not you’re an athlete, the goal is to maximize your body’s potential by feeding it the right foods before, during and after your workouts. Nutrition makes a big difference in not only how you feel, but how you perform–aim for leaner, faster and stronger!
In general, try to eat “whole” foods instead of processed foods. For example, grab a piece of fruit instead of drinking fruit juice or eat a Greek yogurt instead of a protein shake. You don’t need packaged foods to get the best bang for the buck! However, that’s not to say you shouldn’t opt for convenience bars or shakes when you’re in a time crunch.
The three macronutrients in the diet include carbohydrates, protein and fat. These play unique roles when it comes to exercise. First, carbohydrates are the best fuel source for your muscles because your body requires and absorbs them fairly quickly. You need carbs before your workout. Second, protein plays an important role in muscle recovery and is critical after your workout, but not as a stand-alone fuel source. You need a combination of protein mixed with carbs to maximize your recovery and fuel muscle repair and glycogen storage. Studies indicate we should strive to refuel after a vigorous workout within 30-45 minutes.
- Fruit smoothie (e.g., fat-free yogurt blended with berries)
- Low-fat or fat-free yogurt (regular or Greek variety)
- Plain English muffin, toast or a mini bagel
- Oatmeal or other hot cereal
- Snack bar (ex: Kashi Chewy granola bars, Nature Valley bars or Nutragrain bars – skip the very high fiber bars with more than 4 grams of fiber)
Note: Avoid too much fiber prior to working out because it may cause gastrointestinal distress. And beware of too much fat (ex. peanut butter) because it digests slowly and is not as efficient in getting energy to your muscle quickly enough to use during your workout.
- Energy gels or chews
- Low-sugar sports drink
- Small serving of plain crackers
- Low-fiber granola bar
If your workout lasts less than one hour, you may not need to refuel until afterwards. If you’re putting in a longer workout (such as a long walk, run or bike ride), use quick pure-carb options like those mentioned above.
- Fruit with a low-fat cheese stick
- Fruit with peanut or almond butter
- Greek yogurt and low-fat granola
- Peanut butter or cheese toast
- Protein smoothie (fruit blended with Greek yogurt and optional unsweetened almond milk)
- One cup low-fat 1% chocolate milk
- Half of a turkey sandwich
- Trail mix (mix nuts with your choice of dried fruit)
Your body will perform at its peak with the right type of fuel, so experiment with various options. What works well for one person may not work as well for the other. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey of working out and have fun!
To get a tailored plan from a Cooper Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist, visit cooperclinicnutrition.com or call 972.560.2655.