Food as fuel before, during and after a workout

February 24, 2023 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

As you get ready to hit the gym or running trail, don’t forget to feed your body to give it the fuel it needs before, during and after your workout.

If your workout is low intensity, such as a leisurely walk, then you do not need to eat beforehand. However, if you have a history of hypoglycemia or diabetes, or if your workout is intense (such as a spin class), you should have a food that contains a carbohydrate to make sure your blood sugar doesn’t dip too low during your workout. After your workout, fuel up to repair and build your muscles.

And of course, stay hydrated.

“Obey your thirst,” says Toni Havala, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian with Endeavor Health® Weight Management.

Here are a few more of Havala’s tips for fueling up before, during and after a workout:

Before your workout

Drink up. Havala recommends drinking 16-24 ounces of water 2-3 hours before your workout if possible.

Fuel up. Give your body the fuel it needs to get through the workout.

If your workout is in the morning, opt for healthy carbs like a piece of fruit (a small banana works great), whole wheat toast, English muffin or a small bowl of cereal 30 minutes to an hour before exercising.

If your workout is later in the day, make sure you’re not running on empty tank. A small snack that has both carbs and protein is a good option a couple of hours before your workout. Greek yogurt, a small glass of chocolate milk or about 1/4 cup of trail mix are good options. 

During your workout

Stay hydrated. Take sips of water (1-2 ounces) every 15-20 minutes of your workout. If you are outside doing an intense workout that lasts more than one hour, consider a sports drink to stay hydrated.

If you start feeling lightheaded during the workout, your blood sugar may be getting low. Fuel up with a food containing carbohydrates, such as a granola bar or a piece of fruit.

After your workout

Drink up. Stay hydrated by drinking another 16-24 ounces after your workout.

Fuel up. Stick with a balanced meal that includes healthy protein, carbs and vegetables. Some good combinations include chicken or fish for protein. A sweet potato or whole grain pasta provide carbohydrates.

Also, make sure you eat vegetables to provide your body with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you don’t have time for a meal within two hours of your workout, grab a snack that offers a good mix of carbs and protein like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and fruit, half a turkey sandwich or a small glass of chocolate milk.

If you’re in a real pinch for time, protein bars offer a good on-the-go option. Havala recommends a bar with at least 12 grams of protein and 15 grams of carbohydrates for refueling.

Regular exercise is essential to health. Explore fitness programs at Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness.

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