Fueling your body before and after workouts will optimize overall performance. The types of macronutrients – nutrients which provide energy – you should consume before and after exercise will depend on the physical intensity and duration of your workouts.

Here’s the science behind each of the three macronutrients and their roles in fueling exercise:

Carbohydrates are one of the main energy sources the body uses for fuel to replenish the muscles. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars that are used in the body as a source of energy. These simple sugars are digested quicker than other macronutrients (protein and fat) and are stored in the muscles as glycogen.

A secondary fuel source for athletes is fat. Fats play a critical role in many body functions, however, you should avoid foods high in fat based on increased gastrointestinal distress and slowed absorption rate that fat provides before your workout.

Protein facilitates the rebuilding, repairing and recovery of muscle proteins to build and maintain muscle mass throughout the body. This macronutrient is important for you to consume both before and after exercise to improve muscle synthesis.

Each person will have differences in intensity and duration of their workout. So how do I know how much I should be eating before my workout routine?

The answer is, it depends.

The type of physical activity (endurance versus strength training) will determine the amount and type of macronutrients you should be consuming before your workout.

If you prefer strength training exercises, your go-to meal option before a workout should be high in carbohydrates, high in protein content and include little to no fat. These nutrients will enhance your workout by maintaining energy storage and blood glucose levels while boosting muscle synthesis.

Strength training is a type of anaerobic exercise which is used to promote strength, speed and increased muscle mass. These exercises include sets of resistance training which are completed under three minutes. When you’re engaging in anaerobic exercise, the body relies on energy stored in your muscles called glycogen. This provides a boost of energy for shorter sets and repetitions.

If you’re the type of person that enjoys endurance training (running or cycling), your food choices before your workout should include foods high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein content and little to no fat intake. Endurance exercisers will need to increase their consumption of carbohydrates to provide energy for cellular function. Carbohydrate ingestion can maintain blood glucose levels in order to spare glycogen stores throughout your workout. Having enough glycogen stored throughout the body before a high intensity workout will enable your muscles to work longer.

Endurance exercises, which are typically longer workouts (1-3 hours), use a type of aerobic metabolism. Aerobic metabolism is a way for your cells to convert macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates) into energy, but only in the presence of oxygen. Aerobic exercises use oxygen to meet the energy demands during exercise for an extended period of time.

Please keep in mind the amount of carbohydrates you should consume depends on the duration and intensity of your workouts. The longer and more intense your workout routine is, the more carbohydrates your body needs.

Examples Carbohydrate-Rich Foods

  • Blueberries

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Mixed berries

  • Mango

  • Kiwi

  • Rice cakes

  • Toast

  • Dried fruit

  • Crackers

Examples of Protein-Rich Foods

  • Greek yogurt

  • Protein powder

  • Protein bar

  • Beef jerky

  • Milk

  • Tuna

  • Cottage cheese

  • Eggs

  • Tofu

  • Chicken

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