Wondering how to best fuel around exercise?

Posted on Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Written by Bonnie Huang, AHN student

Is getting into a new exercise/sport regime a part of your New Year’s goal? As important as it is to be active, it is just as important to fuel yourself so that you have enough energy to perform your best! 

Pre-Workout Fuel

The energy we ‘burn’ during a workout (i.e., carbohydrates, fat, and protein) is not from the energy that we consume prior to exercise, but rather the energy that was obtained and stored 24-48 hours earlier. 

Food eaten a few hours before exercise helps maintain blood sugar levels and prevent muscles from tiring out easily.

A snack should be eaten 1-2 hours before exercising. For those who like morning workouts, a small glass of juice or a piece of toast (both easily digestible carbohydrates) is good 15-30 min. before exercise.

General guidelines for pre-workout snacks/meals:

  • High carbohydrate – to keep your body fuelled
  • Moderate fibre – to keep you full, but not too full otherwise you might feel nauseous
  • Low sugar – to prevent dramatic highs and lows in blood sugar

The closer you get to your exercise time, the less fat you should consume, then protein, and then carbohydrates – major fuel source. Protein and fat digests slower than carbohydrates and reduce stomach emptying, which may result in nausea and cramping.


  • Whole wheat toast with slice banana and cinnamon
  • Greek yogurt and trail mix
  • Smoothie (with frozen fruit, milk, yogurt)
  • Oatmeal with fresh fruit
  • Apple wedges with almond butter

During-Workout Fuel

For exercise lasting more than 90 minutes, it is helpful to consume carbohydrates throughout (e.g., in a marathon, Tough Mudder competition, etc.) to spare glycogen stores and increase endurance.

A good rule of thumb is to consume 0.7-1g carbohydrate/kg body weight/hour. Your body only needs carbohydrates during exercise because carbohydrates provide glucose quicker than protein and fat. 


  • Gatorade
  • 1 tbsp honey + 1 cup water (1:1 ratio)
  • ½ cup juice + ½ cup water + 1/8 tsp salt

Post-Workout Fuel

After exercise, your glycogen stores may be depleted, you may be a bit dehydrated, and your muscles may need some repair. There is a 2-hour ‘recovery window’ following a workout during which your muscles are trying to recover fast.

To assist this, providing your body with the right fuel soon after exercising can speed recovery. The quicker you are able to provide the right fuel after exercise, the quicker you are able to speed glycogen recovery, which can maximize your energy stores sooner and prepare you for your next workout sooner.

General guidelines for post-workout snacks/meals:

  • High carbohydrate foods (at least 50g) - replenishes glycogen stores to assist with recovering from an exercise
  • Moderate protein (15-25g) - help muscles repair

Many people make the mistake of having too much protein after a workout and not enough carbohydrates.


  • Grilled chicken with mixed vegetables and brown rice
  • Veggie omelet with avocado and toast
  • Salmon with sweet potato
  • Whole wheat tuna fish and spinach sandwich
  • Chocolate Milk


Pre-, during, and post-workout, drinking water and staying hydrated are both very important to balance sweat loss. Water helps to carry away lactic acid and other waste products from the muscle. Lactic acid is what causes muscle soreness after exercise. 

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