You’ve just started a new exercise regime, great! Even better, you’ve found our Energizer and Recovery products and you’re ready to go. But, motivation and supplements are only one part of the equation.
Whether you’re training for your fifth marathon or just getting started with some classes at the gym, the way you fuel with food and water is just as important.
While supplements can help, they are meant to do just that, supplement the diet. They can’t replace a healthy diet and they also can’t be the sole source of nutrition before or after a big workout.
Fueling with food can help get the most of out of your supplements and your workout.
The body gets its fuel from macronutrients. These are the carbs, proteins, and fats that make up our food.
These are all a source of calories and each plays a slightly different role in our workout. The ratio, the type, and the timing of consumption of these are all important in maximizing your workout and your supplement regimen.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) suggest having a meal about one to four hours before your exercise. This is a wide range, but everybody tolerates food differently.1
For some, a meal one hour before exercise may be well-tolerated. For others, it may cause stomach upset. Try out different options to see how your body responds best.
However, the general consensus is to not eat anything directly before your workout. Your body will use the energy it has to digest your food instead of support your workout. In addition, it will likely lead to some stomach irritation and discomfort.
Ensuring your body has the nutrients it needs to support a workout is an important part of your fueling regimen. For that reason, carbohydrates play large role during this time.
The main source of energy during a workout is glycogen – this is what carbohydrates are stored as in the body. We increase our stores of glycogen by eating carbohydrates.1
The type of carbohydrate matters as well. Foods that are high in fiber such as whole grains can take a longer time to digest and cause stomach discomfort. For this reason, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends this meal to be low in fiber content.2
In addition to the carbohydrate recommendations, they also suggest a meal that is moderate in protein and low in fat. Some protein is good to prepare your body for recovery later on. However, fat, like fiber, can take a longer time to digest and therefore may also lead to some stomach discomfort.2
To avoid stomach discomfort, some great options could be
- peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Müsli with low-fat milk and berries
- a turkey sandwich (but skip the mayo)
Use these guidelines to experiment with timing and the types of food that suit you best.
Finally, hydrating before exercise is also essential. It is recommended to have about 480-570mL of water about 2 hours before exercise.3
The average 60-minute workout at the gym doesn’t normally warrant the need for food during your workout. Simply water or an electrolyte beverage does the trick.
However, for longer, sustained exercise that lasts more than 60 minutes it is advised to have about 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour.2
A common method of consumption during exercise is sports gels. They are portable and they contain carbohydrates in their most simple form. This is important because they can be taken up by the body immediately and used as fuel.
They typically contain a mixture of glucose and fructose and contain about 20 grams of carbohydrate per sachet. Thus, they can be taken about every half an hour to meet the recommended 30-60 grams/hour.
Fun fact: using gels with both fructose and glucose (rather than just glucose) is thought to be more useful because they are absorbed in two different pathways. Too much glucose will get “clogged up” in one pathway, but adding fructose can better distribute the work, meaning more energy can be absorbed more efficiently.2
If you are training for an endurance event such as a marathon, this type of fueling is important so that you don’t run out of energy (glycogen) stored in your body. The goal is to replenish this energy before it runs out. Otherwise, we “bonk” or “hit a wall” and this can be extremely hard to recover from in the middle of a race.
Protein, fat and complex carbohydrates are less important during this time. The body cannot use these as immediate fuel, and therefore they will likely just lead to an upset stomach. Our body is taking a lot of energy to fuel our sport and it won’t be willing to give up enough of the necessary energy to digest these.2
Hydration is also an important concept at this point in training. Too little can make us dehydrated and decrease performance while too much can actually cause a dangerous condition known as hyponatremia (low sodium in the body). It is recommended to consume 7-10 ounces of water for every 10-20 minutes of exercise.3
Overall, while training for your endurance event, practice your fueling to see when and what works best for you. Just like we practice our sport, we also must practice our fueling strategy.
The biggest rule of thumb is to never try anything new on your race or event day because you never know how your body will react.
You’ve finished your gym session or you race and now it’s time to relax. But in order to get the most of your workout, replenishing your body for recovery is just as important.
For the best results in recovery and building lean muscle mass, this meal should occur in the 30 minutes after your workout.4
While simple carbohydrates were the focus before and during your workout, complex carbs AND protein are the focus afterward within 30 minutes of your exercise.
As mentioned earlier, exercise depletes our energy or glycogen stores. First, we must replenish these stores with carbohydrates. But, since we are resting and our body can focus more on digestion, complex carbohydrates with fiber are the best choice at this time.
This can be foods like:
- whole-grain bread and pasta
- brown rice
- or quinoa.
Protein is another focus during this time. During exercise, we break down our muscle. Protein is used to build them back up and make them stronger for next time. 2
A common and popular post-workout snack is low-fat chocolate milk. It contains carbohydrates in the chocolate and milk (yes milk has carbs!) and is a good source of protein with a bit of fat.
Other great options for after exercise could be:
- smoothie with fruit, vegetables, and milk
- whole wheat pasta with chicken and vegetables
- a Buddha bowl with quinoa, beans, and vegetables
At this point, also don’t forget about hydration. Water is the gold standard and electrolyte drinks can also, help to replenish the sodium and potassium lost in sweat. Just the same, eating food with some salt content and some potassium-containing fruits and veggies (like bananas and sweet potatoes) can also do the trick without the added sugar that tends to come in these products.
A great way to see how much water you’ve lost during sport is to weigh yourself before and after exercise. If you’ve lost weight, you did not hydrate enough during exercise. If you’ve gained weight, you’ve actually consumed a bit too much water during your exercise. If it is the same, then your hydration plan during exercise was just right.3
It’s recommended to consume about 500-750mL of water for every 0.5 kg lost during exercise.3
The Bottom Line
Fueling is all about increasing, maintaining, and replenishing our glycogen stores, before, during, and after our workout, respectively. Supplements can make this process more efficient, but can’t contribute to these glycogen stores directly.
To get the most out of any supplement regime, consider what you eat along with it before, during, and after your workout.
- One to four hours before a workout focus on foods that have simple carbohydrates, low fat, and moderate protein.
- For exercise longer than one hour, consume about 30-60 carbohydrates every hour.
- After your workout focus on complex carbohydrates and protein.
- Hydration is important before, during, and after your exercise. A lack of hydration can decrease your performance during and cause dehydration after exercise.
1. Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14(1). doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
2. Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2016;48(3):543-568. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852
3. MHealthy Physical Activity Program. The Important of Water While Exercising.; 2011. http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/Mhealthy/TheImportanceofWaterWhileExercising.pdf.
4. Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-8