Fueling Your Workout


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A common question many individuals ponder is whether to eat or not to eat prior to a workout. Whether you are a pro athlete or a gym enthusiast, when you eat and what you choose to eat, will impact how successful your workout may be.


Eating Before a Workout

The response an individual has when consuming food and beverages prior to a workout is varied. Typically, eating before exercise, as opposed to exercising on an empty stomach, has been shown to be beneficial for most exercisers. A snack eaten before a workout provides fuel for your body to function at its best.


When and What to Eat

Experiment with a small meal or light snack one to two hours before you plan to workout to top off your energy stores and allow you to use this fuel for your workout. Choose a low-fat snack with carbohydrate and some protein. Some simple and convenient options include:

  • Low-fat yogurt with fruit
  • Crackers and low-fat cheese
  • Fruit and nut trail mix

Take note of how you feel during and after exercise and make adjustments according to what works best for you.


Re-fueling After a Workout

A thoughtful plan for recovery nutrition enables your body to build muscle and replenish your energy stores. Your body is primed and ready to replace the energy used during your workout, so feed it well. Try liquid nutrition (i.e. a fruit and yogurt smoothie) if your appetite is slow to return after exercise.


Eating right will:

  • Help you train longer and at a higher intensity
  • Delay the onset of fatigue
  • Promote muscle recovery
  • Help your body adapt to workouts
  • Improve body composition and strength
  • Enhance concentration
  • Help maintain healthy immune function
  • Reduce the chance of injury
  • Reduce the risk of heat cramps and stomach aches

Sports Nutrition Highlights

  • Nourish your body before and after a workout with high-quality carbohydrates and a small amount of protein to best fuel your muscles.
  • Maintain adequate hydration throughout the day with water as your primary beverage. Drinking water during exercise alone is not enough to keep your body hydrated.
  • The energy required to run a marathon is quite different than going for a walk around the block. Keep in mind, exercise that requires higher intensity and/or longer duration will require more fuel.

A Note About Diabetes

For individuals with diabetes eating appropriately before exercise is imperative. View the Health Facts for You: Guidelines for Exercise for a more detailed discussion of exercising with diabetes.


Develop your Sports Nutrition Plan

A sports dietitian is the smart choice for high quality sports nutrition guidance, program development and management. If you have additional questions and would like to meet with a sports dietitian, call the UW Health Sports Medicine Clinic at (608) 263-8850.