Are You Eating Enough to Fuel Your Workout?

By DuBose Fitness

Should you “carb load” before you work out? How about protein – should you hit the shake bar after you warm up?

Whether you’re exercising to bulk up, maintain your weight or shed a few inches, you might be confused as to what, exactly, you should eat before and after you work out. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and it can be difficult to know what you should be eating to fuel your exercise.

Whether you’re working out to train for an event, lose weight or build muscle, giving your body the nutrients it needs is essential. Here’s how to know if you’re eating enough to fuel your workout.


Pre- and Post-Workout Fuel is Essential

The foods you eat prior to exercise are critical to your performance. The right combination of vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbs is essential to ensuring your body has the energy it needs to maximize the benefit of your workout. Your pre-workout meal or snack should include foods that will decrease muscle catabolism. Muscle catabolism is what happens when your body doesn’t have enough “fuel” in reserve and begins to break down muscle mass.

To prevent muscle catabolism, plan to eat foods that increase glycogen levels in your body. These include slow-digesting carbs, like brown rice, oatmeal or sweet potatoes. They also include fast-digesting proteins like chicken or egg whites.

Just as your pre-workout nutrition is important, your post-routine food matters, too! After you exercise, you’ll need to eat foods to help your body replenish your glycogen and stop the breakdown of proteins. The sooner you do this, the better! Within 1-2 hours of working out, grab some protein and carbs again. This time, it’s okay to opt for the slower-digesting proteins like beef and pork. Your carbs can be anything from rice or pasta to fruits and veggies. Be sure to include a healthy dose of fiber, too!


Signs You May Not Be Getting Enough Fuel

It’s true: finding the right balance of pre- and post-workout fuel can be tricky without guidance from a personal trainer or a nutritionist. But there are a few “sure signs” you’re not properly fueling before you work out. If you experience any of the following, it may be time to re-evaluate your exercise nutrition.

  • Dizziness. If you begin to feel dizzy during or after your workouts, that’s a good sign you’re letting your blood sugar drop too low. Rethink your pre-workout carbohydrates, and always be sure you’re properly hydrated prior to and during your workout.
  • Diminished results. Whether you’re looking to bulk up or trim down, your goals can be greatly diminished if you’re not fueling up properly. Your body is preserving itself – storing the calories, fats and proteins you’re taking in. Again, re-evaluate the calories you’re consuming, as an increase might be all you need to begin seeing results again.
  • Nausea. If you’re getting nauseous during or after your workouts, that’s a sure sign you’re not fueling properly. To remedy that, consider your carbs, your electrolytes and your water intake.
  • Exhaustion. We don’t mean the typical post-workout fatigue. If you’re feeling utterly exhausted, sleepy or drained after even normal workouts, you’re probably not getting enough pre-workout fuel.
  • You’re always sore. Proteins are essential to the repair of your muscles after your workout. Some soreness is normal, sure. But if you’re sore for more than a day or two after you work out, you’re likely not getting enough.
  • Hunger. This one’s tricky, as exercise will certainly make you feel a bit more hungry. However, if you’re constantly hungry, it’s a good bet you’re not getting enough pre- and post-workout fuel.
  • Irritability. Every heard the term “hangry?” Exercise can do that if you don’t fuel properly. A drop in blood sugar can make you irritable and cranky. If this happens often, you may need to get more carbs.


Timing Is Important

We mentioned earlier that fueling up post-workout should happen within 1 to 2 hours of your workout. But what about that pre-exercise fuel Just as what you eat before your workout matters, when you eat is important, too. Obviously, you want to avoid cramping and discomfort. But you also want to ensure that the nutrients you consume are working toward making your workout more effective.

In the beginning, you’ll want to experiment as everyone’s body works a bit differently. Ideally, though, you should plan to eat between 1 and 3 hours before working out. This allows your body time to digest your food and convert it to the energy you need. Remember: before you exercise you’re eating slow-digesting carbs and quick-digesting proteins. Avoid foods that are high in fat or fiber, as these might make you feel bloated and uncomfortable. It’s best to also avoid heavier proteins like beef.

If you’re strapped for time but super hungry immediately prior to your workout, a protein shake is okay. This should give you the energy you need and keep your blood sugar at a healthy level. Just remember to replenish after your workout with ”real” foods containing fiber, vitamins and minerals.


Ideas for Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks

Have you had enough peanut butter on whole grain toast? Here are a few ideas to keep your workout fuel interesting.

Before You Work Out
  • Granola, yogurt and fresh fruit or berries
  • Smoothie with fresh fruit and almond or soy milk
  • Cottage cheese with fruit and a handful of nuts
  • Sunny side up egg on whole grain toast
  • Grilled chicken breast in a whole wheat wrap
  • Avocado toast with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt
After You Work Out
  • Tuna pasta salad (mix tuna, frozen peas, green onions and bowtie pasta with light Italian dressing)
  • Veggie omelet with toast
  • Whole grain cereal with soy milk and fresh fruit
  • Half a whole grain bagel with smoked salmon and cottage cheese
  • Peanut butter and banana smoothie with soy milk or Greek yogurt
  • In a pinch, 1% chocolate milk or a recovery protein shake