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Fuel and Refuel

Seven tips on eating and drinking before and after your workout
Yogurt, berries and high-fiber cereal serve as excellent fuel before a weight-lifting/strength workout. ©SHUTTERSTOCK
Yogurt, berries and high-fiber cereal serve as excellent fuel before a weight-lifting/strength workout. ©SHUTTERSTOCK

Think in terms of “fuel points”
Throughout the day, consume protein, nutrient-dense carbs and healthy fats at each fuel point—whether that’s a meal or snack. The fuel points surrounding your workout serve to prepare you for your session or facilitate your recovery from it.  

Pre-game your hydration
In the hour before your workout, sip on 16 to 20 ounces of water. If you are training in the morning, you must start this immediately, even before your morning caffeine, to recover the water lost overnight. 

Time your pre-workout calories
How much you eat before a training session depends on the type and duration of workout, your body size, and timing in relation to the session. A guideline is 200 to 300 calories per hour prior to exercise, preferably allowing for two hours for digestion. If eating within an hour of training, choose simple carbohydrates, such as bananas or applesauce, that are easy to digest.

Get a mix of proteins and carbs
Your pre-workout meals should combine carbohydrates for energy and protein for muscle repair. A study published in 2007 showed that the combination of proteins and carbs leads to greater strength gains as opposed to eating carbs alone. In addition, one study from the University of Western Ontario concluded that consuming branched-chain amino acids—the building blocks of protein (found in meat, dairy and legumes)—before exhaustive cardio efforts increased both power output and time to failure. 

Opt for the shake
Consume liquid nutrition before morning workouts or within one hour of training to promote easier digestion. Shakes are also a good option before races or key workouts like the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), when your digestive system may be too nervous to function properly.

Make recovery easy
The optimal recovery window is within 10 to 30 minutes post-workout, but continues for hours depending on the duration and intensity of the workout. Following your training session, consume carbs and protein while rehydrating.  A shake is a good option to expedite the replenish-and-rebuild process. Keep it simple and carry a shaker bottle and your favorite recovery protein so you can drink it on your way home or to work, and begin recovery immediately. 

Plan ahead
Don’t wait for key performance events such as baseline testing or the APFT to wonder what to eat for optimal performance. Experiment ahead of time under simulated conditions so you can determine how your body responds. Record your pre- and post-workout diet, how you feel during training, and weekly and monthly gains. Establish a routine so you can determine what best supports your goals.

Adjust what you do based on your workout:

Weight Lifting/Strength Session

  • Pre-workout Drink 16 to 20 ounces of water. Eat a meal of yogurt, berries and high-fiber cereal, or consume a scoop of whey protein powder mixed with a 1-to-1 ratio of water and orange juice. 
  • Post-workout Make a protein shake of about 1 gram of protein for every 6 pounds of your body weight (for example, 30 grams of protein for a 180-pound athlete). Mix with water, juice or a carbohydrate mix to provide 60 to 90 grams of carbs.

Morning Cardio Intervals for Fat Loss 

  • Pre-workout Drink 16 to 20 ounces of water and a cup of black coffee or green tea.
  • Post-workout Eat protein and carbs in a 1-to-4 ratio (in grams). Example: 20 grams of protein (from a powder), with 80 grams of carbs (from a banana, a half-cup of berries and spinach). Also consider taking a tablespoon of fat-metabolizing MCT oil.

Endurance Session
(1- to 2-hour run, bike or ruck)

  • Pre-workout Drink a diluted carbohydrate drink. Aim to eat 200 to 300 calories per hour. Three hours before, consume 4 to 6 ounces of chicken, sweet potato and vegetables dressed with olive oil. Switch to shakes if eating within an hour of training.
  • Post-workout Start with a shake, then eat a meal of chicken and pasta, or rice with a vegetable a few hours later. Aim to eat 300 to 500 calories in a 1-to-4 protein-to-carb ratio every three to four hours following training instead of one large meal of 1,500 to 2,000 calories.