Some days you’re on fire at the gym, setting personal records and enjoying every minute. Other times it feels like you’re walking underwater between sets. Your energy levels are impacted by sleep quality, nutrition, external stress, and more. Diet is a big deal—what you eat and drink before, during, and after your workout makes a world of difference in how you feel and perform.
Let’s break down what you should (and shouldn’t) be eating to make the most of your workout sessions.
Eat Right to Rev Up
Overall nutrition habits power your workout routine as much as anything you consume in the moment. Set yourself up for sweat success with these quick tips:
- Drink lots of water. If there’s a step-by-step guide for a life well-lived, staying hydrated is top on the list. Set phone reminders to fill up your cup every hour.
- Go for the whole. Homemade, whole-food meals can give you a range of beneficial vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients and offer a balance of macronutrients—especially fibre, which many of us often don’t get enough of.
- Enjoy low-glycemic treats. Processed foods are often full of preservatives, added sugars and other simple carbs, saturated fat, and sodium. Skip the crackers and grab celery and hummus for a more satisfying snack.
- Smart on-the-go nutrition. Everyone has busy days, so packing quick, balanced meals and snacks ensures you can safely skip the drive-through. USANA Active Nutrition is one line-up you can utilise to support your life in motion.
Pre-Workout: Prime Yourself
As a rule of thumb, avoid exercising within three hours of eating a large meal and one to two hours after a smaller meal. Gauge yourself about an hour before you plan to exercise. Do you feel hungry? How are your energy levels? You may find all you need is some hydration and you’re good to go. If you do notice a rumble in your stomach, reach for complex carbohydrates—and keep it light.
Fruit, vegetables, and oats are perfect pre-workout snacks. They’re full of fibre, giving you a more gradual release of energy for a consistent pace at the gym. Contrast that with simple carb foods, like soda, which bring on a rush of energy and a blood sugar crash shortly after.
A medium-sized apple is fine 45 minutes before a sweat, and a small handful of berries will do the trick if you only have 20–30 minutes to spare. But bananas reign supreme—they contain potassium, which helps with muscle contractions.
While you may be tempted to down a cup of coffee, it’s best to skip it. Caffeine restricts blood vessel dilation and may reduce your maximum heart rate. Approach pre-workout powders carefully, too—to try one, double-check the label, consult a trusted physician, and start with very small doses.
During Exercise: A Little Goes a Long Way
With all the ways to work out, the right fuel for you can vary. For short, high-intensity training, avoid eating anything and hydrate ahead of time. For moderately intense activities, drink 200–300 mL of water every 30 minutes of motion. Eating should generally be avoided during an average workout routine. If you’re exercising outdoors or swimming, you’ll sweat more, so be conscious of any signs of thirst.
Endurance exercises, like marathons, deplete your body’s resources before the finish line. You need a way to top up your glycogen stores to keep the engine running. Gel packs and speciality carbohydrate drinks are staples in most runners’ circles. A long run may be the only time and place where pure glucose plays a positive role, so you can indulge in around 10 jellybeans (or equivalent candy) as you run.
You may also consider consuming amino acids during or after working out for a hydration boost—plus, they come in fun flavours. While the science behind using amino for muscle recovery is still developing, study subjects say they feel like they experienced better recovery.
Post-Workout: Maximise Recovery
Congratulations on crushing another workout! As you might imagine, what you eat afterwards should be the opposite of pre-workout—it sets the tone for the rest of the day and can provide your body with the nutritional building blocks for recovery. Instead of complex carbohydrates, opt for satisfying fats and clean protein sources. Fibre and fat will keep you satiated until your next meal, and some amount of sodium and electrolytes are great for recovery.
Consume any of the following foods within an hour after exercise for the most nutritional benefits.
Healthy sources of protein:
- cottage cheese
- black beans
Other optimal post-workout foods:
- green or protein shake—convenient option to power muscle recovery
- avocado—post-workout superfood with its healthy fats and fibre
- Greek yoghurt
- nut butter
- flaxseed meal
And for fast hydration after exercise, mix a pinch of salt and 10–15 mL of lemon or lime juice into a glass of warm water. (This citrus twist is also a wonderful way to rehydrate in the morning).
Fuel Your Fitness
The next time you’re not quite up to speed before exercise, reach for a banana and a glass of water—instead of an energy drink and a candy bar—and you’ll notice a high-octane boost to your workout routine.