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How To Eat For Exercise Performance and Recovery

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

Today we are bombarded with many different diets promising to help you achieve your desired results. There are keto, paleo, plant-based, carnivore, IIFYM (if it fits your macros), and gluten-free, among many others. These various diets make it hard to determine what is best for our bodies. The truth is everybody is different, has specific nutritional and energy needs, and has different food intolerances. What you may need to ensure a healthy and well-nourished body will not be the same as another individual's needs. So what do you do? This blog will cover four points/guidelines on nutrition and exercise.

Eating Right

Eating right has many benefits for us long term. Ensuring that our bodies are getting the right nutrients in the right amounts can help fight illnesses and diseases which threaten the quality of life we lead.

If you think back to your school days, you might recall being taught the basics of nutrition and eating a well-balanced diet. So let us start there. If you are completely confused about what to do or where to start, go back to basics. Your plate should have protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Ensure that you are eating nutrient-dense foods. Opt for animal protein or other natural forms before supplementing. Add healthy fats from foods like avocados, cheese, nuts, etc. Eat carbohydrates but avoid boxed or processed forms, as they tend to have less nutritional value.

Rule of thumb: Shop the perimeter.

Everyone has heard this saying because it's good advice. Shopping the perimeter of your grocery allows you to fuel your body with the healthiest food short of starting your garden or farm.

When it comes to eating right, make sure your plate consists primarily of natural sources of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Eat seasonally and organic wherever possible.

If you have food allergies, find alternative options that are natural and not processed. If you have specific food concerns, always do your research and get the help of a licensed professional.

Energy for Exercise

Energy for exercise is obtained primarily from carbohydrates. Once eaten, they break down into glucose for use as energy. Unused glucose is converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver. When we exercise, stored glycogen breaks down into glucose molecules. These molecules are then oxidized to form Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is used at the onset of exercise before the body switches from the anaerobic energy production system to the aerobic energy production system to produce energy for the body. In this system, the body uses carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Hence, it is necessary to fuel the body correctly to assist with performance and recovery.

Eating before exercise

Pre-workout meals or snacks will look different based on the time you had your last meal and the intensity and duration of the session.

Because carbs are the main energy source, these must be in a pre-workout meal. Though fats provide energy for workouts, a pre-workout meal or snack should not contain high-fat foods as fats delay digestion. Protein is necessary as it ensures that adequate amino acids available for the muscles.

If you are eating breakfast and your session is not until noon, ensure it is balanced as your body will have the necessary time to digest and absorb nutrients. Alternatively, if you are doing a distance run, you may want to eat a little more fat with your meal a few hours before the run as your body will start using it during a longer workout.

Eating a few hours before exercise is ideal as it will give the body sufficient time to digest the meal. The closer you get to your training session, the simpler your meal should be. For example, two to four hours before a workout, you can have grilled chicken and veggies while greek yogurt and fruit can be a good choice less than an hour before a workout.

According to Rosenbloom (2012), the recommendation for carbohydrate intake is designed for athletes so recreational athletes may not need it if they consume balanced meals at designated meal times1. However, because everybody is different, you should find what works best for you. Some days you may need a small pre-workout snack while on other days, having a balanced lunch or breakfast will do.

Just remember to stick to foods you tolerate well before exercise. Do not try new foods before a workout.

Additionally, proper hydration before exercise is essential. To ensure that you are properly hydrated, you should know the training conditions. Will the session be outside where it is hot and humid? Will it be in an air-conditioned building? Poor hydration can negatively affect how you feel during the workout.

Recovery Nutrition

Recovery Nutrition or post-workout meals are essential because they replenish depleted energy and nutrient stores. As stated before, fats slow digestion. As a result, it should be minimal in the first meal following a training session as they will slow the breakdown of food the body needs to recover well post-exercise.

Food sources should be whole and natural wherever possible. However, fruit and a protein shake would be a good and convenient option in the first 30 minutes after exercise. Larger post-workout meals will follow usually within two hours of the end of the session.

Hydration is just as important post-workout. The body loses fluid through sweating and breathing, so rehydrate your body and replenish its stores for optimal recovery. Water and electrolyte drinks are good options for rehydration.

Knowing the relationship between nutrition and exercise can help you develop a better routine, leading to better results. It does not have to be hard or complicated. Focus on mastering the basics, eating right, and adjusting to fit your body’s specific needs. Remember:

  • Whole sources are always better

  • Eat seasonally and organically where you can

  • Don’t forget to hydrate

  • Listen to your body’s signals and nourish accordingly


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