The Best Ways to Fuel Your Workouts Might Surprise You

The truth about protein shakes, plus what to eat

The Best Ways to Fuel Your Workouts Might Surprise You

You’re committed to regular workouts.  Good for you! To hit your fitness goals, you also want to think about how you fuel your body — both before and after you exercise.

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Want to burn fat? Build muscle? Either way, you need three things to help your muscles recover: good carbs, lean protein and plenty of water.

Also, don’t assume all drinks or nutrition bars touted to support fitness are actually good for you.

For example, protein shakes, which come in many varieties, are not created equal. They’re great if 1.) you drink them immediately after the workout 2.) they contain the right ingredients. Be sure that whey protein is the No. 1 ingredient. It may not taste as good, but that’s what is best for your body. Also, make sure your protein shakes contain little or no added sugar.

Another misconception is that your body needs mostly protein after a workout. You need some carbs too for muscle repair.

Water: Not just for hydration

During your workout and immediately afterward, you know to drink plenty of water. But what you may not realize is that drinking water more than put water back into your body after you sweat. You also lose electrolytes, sodium and glucose when you exercise and water helps your body recover.

What to eat before morning workouts

Should you eat before you work out in the morning? Yes, if you can. It’s good to grab something quick to eat or drink beforehand, such as fruit. If you enough time, eat a piece of toast with peanut butter or 1/2 whole wheat bagel with peanut butter.

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Eating too early disagrees with some people. In this case, go for juice, which is easy on your stomach. Four to six ounces of low-calorie orange juice or fresh-squeezed orange juice will help give you the necessary energy for a workout.

Before any work out, it’s best to eat something containing carbohydrates. You want foods that will give you sustained energy; burning poor fuel is like trying to run your car without gas.

Daily meal plan ideas

When you exercise regularly, or if you exercise in the afternoon or evenings, you likely have more time so your nutrition goal is to plan for that workout throughout the day.

For breakfast, aim to eat more protein, such as eggs, whole-grain or bran cereal, and toast with peanut butter or nut butter. Fruit smoothies are also good.

At lunch, include a protein source, a few more carbs and vegetables. For example, you may want to try a piece of chicken or tuna with cucumbers and peppers on the side, along with some fruit.

Finally, if you’re still craving something to eat toward the end of the day before you hit the gym, snack on an apple.

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Post-workout recovery

Eating within 30 to 60 minutes of your workout is critical. Not only will it help in muscle repair and recovery, but it can also reduce your body fat.

Any post-workout meal should contain a mix of carbohydrates and protein. Anyone whose goal is to build strength and muscle should eat a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein to ensure adequate muscle repair and recovery. If you’re a high endurance athlete, we typically recommend a 4:1 ration of carbohydrates to protein.

For casual exercising or someone who is 50 years or older, a good ratio is 3:1.

Best food picks

Good lean protein sources include:

  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Tofu
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

When you’re adding carbs to your meals, consider:

  • Brown rice
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Fruit
  • Milk
  • Yogurt

Knowing how to get the best fuel will make all your other workout efforts more worthwhile. Also, be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

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Christopher Travers, MS

Christopher Travers, MS, is an exercise physiologist on staff for both Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and Cleveland Clinic Executive Health.
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