Eating Right for Your Workout

As a group fitness instructor, eating the right foods before teaching a high intensity class is essential. Without the proper fuel for my workout, I end up losing energy towards the end of class. Like most people, I am busy and often don’t have time to prepare foods at just the right time before heading to the gym. So over the years, I have come up with a few recipes that work for me.

Understanding Macronutrients’ Role in Exercise

Macronutrients are the 3 nutrients that contain calories and are required to create energy in the body. Each macronutrients has a specific role in the body and in exercise. Below is a brief explanation of how each nutrient is utilized in exercise.

Carbohydrates (carbs) are body’s main source of energy. They are what your muscles, tissues and brain use as fuel. Simple carbs (fruits, sugars, white breads) are an immediate source of energy while complex carbs (whole grains, oats, starches) keep you full longer and are stored in the body for later use. Your blood converts the carbs you eat into glucose (stored in blood and ready for use) and glycogen (stored in the liver and muscles to replenish blood glucose. High intensity exercise up to 3 minutes utilizes only carbs (glucose and glycogen) in producing energy so your muscles can fire up and work hard.

Fats are another source of stored energy in the body. Fat is broken down into fatty acids and energy for the muscles during moderate-high and moderate intensities lasting greater than 5-15 minutes. As glycogen begins to deplete, fat stores kick in to provide energy for the muscles to contract. Therefore, the longer the duration of exercise, the more the muscles rely on fat as an energy source.

Protein is only used as energy source if insufficient calories are available from carbs and fat. Proteins’ mainly rebuild muscle tissue during and following exercise. Amino acids found in protein are the building blocks of muscle and cell maintenance. Thus, protein is an essential aspect of exercise nutrition.

Cardio Training Nutritionimg_7303

Cardiovascular training relies primarily on the stored glycogen (carbs) and fatty acids. Therefore, prior to a cardio session focusing on consuming mostly complex carbs for stored energy. Below are some suggestions when preparing your pre-cardio meal.

  1. Choose a complex carb (whole grain bread, oats, brown rice, beans) for stored energy and a healthy simple carb (fruit) for immediate energy.
  2. Protein sources (meat, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, eggs)  can be included for muscle repair throughout the workout. If you are integrating strength into your cardio routine, be sure to include protein!
  3. Eat your pre-workout meal about 45-60 minutes prior to hitting the gym.

Strength Training Nutrition

Strength Training NutritionCarbs still serve as the energy source for muscle contraction in strength training. However, strength training requires additional proteins to rebuild the muscles. Therefore, a pre-strength training meal should consist primarily of carbohydrates but also include protein to rebuild muscles during and after the session. Below are suggestions for strength training workouts:

  1. Be sure to include complex and simple carbs to assure energy is readily available for your muscles.
  2. Consume a protein source to rebuild the muscle throughout and during the workout.
  3. Since proteins take longer to break down in the body, eat your pre-workout meal 1-2 hours before working out.


Water is the most important nutrient in the body. As you exercise, water is needed to transport nutrients to the muscle. If you become dehydrated, your heart has to work harder to pump the nutrients through the body to your muscles. Additionally, you will experience a decrease in performance. Thus, making sure you are hydrated before and during your workout is essential. On a daily basis, 64 oz. of water is recommended. Before a workout, be sure you are well-hydrated by gradually drinking water throughout the day. If you workout first thing in the morning, try to drink at least 16 oz. of water before hitting the gym. Then, every 15 minutes of exercise drink 1-2 oz. of water.

Post Workout Nutrition

Following an intense workout, you will need to replenish the water lost throughout. For every lb. lost in sweat, drink 16 oz. of water. If you don’t weigh yourself before and following a workout (I don’t), be sure to hydrate with lots of water! Following a strength workout consuming protein rich foods gives the body the extra protein to rebuild muscle. Consuming a carb-rich food following a cardio session will replenish the carbs used in exercise. A protein-carb food item may be a great choice when combing cardio and strength in one session.

Sample Pre-Workout Meals

Below are a few examples of my favorite pre-workout meals. Remember, cardio sessions don’t require protein but can be an option! I have also included a few links to recipes I have found useful in preparing easy to grab and go meals!

Oatmeal-Banana-Peanut Butter        Toast-Fruit-Egg

granola-berries-greek yogurt

These energy balls are easy to make and store for in the fridge for easy pre-workout meals! Most recipes include a complex carb, simple carb, and protein so…. they are PERFECT for a pre-workout meal.

no bake energy bites

I fell in love with these yummy crepes. They are easy to make and you can pre-make the crepes and store in the fridge. This recipe includes a complex carb, simple carb, and protein. PERFECT for a pre-workout meal!

rasperry crepes




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