Love to workout? Here’s how to eat.

It feels like SUMMER. In MAY.

I am a new human. It also probably helps that I am halfway into the Workout to Conquer Cancer, so I’ve been on a two week long workout streak! All those endorphins are good for the soul.

With the arrival of warm sunny weather, it’s only natural to want to get outside and move your body. It’s a great time of year to ease back into fitness and shift more effort into your wellness goals so you can feel really good.

I’m honoured to once again be an ambassador for Workout to Conquer Cancer again where every day during the month of May I dedicate some time to move my body in support of the BC Cancer Foundation. When I took the challenge last year, I was not in workout mode but the challenge helped me make exercise a habit that I have stuck with ever since!

We all know it’s important to eat a healthy diet, but regular exercise makes good nutrition even more important. However, with all of the sport-focused products out there, know that for the average person doing light to moderate exercise (that’s me!), additional meals or supplements probably aren’t necessary. In fact, if you’re eating balanced meals with nourishing whole foods regularly, you are probably already meeting your workout nutrition needs.

So while I love a potion and powder as much as the next gal, the foundation of good fitness nutrition is ensuring your everyday meals are supporting your wellbeing.

Need a little more detail?

You’ve got it…here are ten tips for acing nutrition while you work(out)!

Think quality over quantity

  • ​Single ingredient, whole foods are always the best choice. Hyper-processed snack foods with refined flours and sugar will leave you fatigued and sore.
  • Eat for energy with nutrient-dense plant foods such as nuts/nut butters, legumes, dates, fruits and vegetables at each meal.
  • These foods provide the nutrients your body needs for growth and repair, without excess energy that you probably don’t need if you have a sedentary job and do 2-4 moderate workouts a week.

Pre-workout fuel

  • Food fuels movement so eating a light meal or snack prior to working out can be beneficial. If your last meal was 2 hours away, just go for it. If 3-4 hours ago, have something quickly digested. Think easily digested carbs without too much fat or fibre. A banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter is great 1 hour pre-workout, and a glass of oat milk immediately before a workout will give you what you need without weighing you down.
  • Want an easy to digest, hydrating smoothie for a pre-workout meal? I’ve got just the thing.

What to eat in-workout

  • The average person doing a light or moderate workout for less than an hour doesn’t need anything other than water.
  • For longer fitness sessions or strenuous activity, try natural sports drinks/gels – no neon blue drinks please! When I ran longer distances, I actually ate a date every half hour which I preferred to gels but not everyone likes having to chew during a run.
  • ​​​For outdoor adventures, always pack snacks if you might be out longer than an hour. Stash plenty of water plus some nutrient dense snacks in your pack like unsweetened trail mixes, dates, and if you’re into it, a simple wrap with hummus and veggies (packed with ice) is another great choice. I’ve also got a super yummy pumpkin pie energy ball that makes a great trail snack.

Eating for recovery

  • A post-workout snack or meal replaces carbohydrate stores and electrolytes lost during exercise (e.g. from using our muscles and sweating) so you want some high quality carbs like quinoa, sprouted grain toast or fruit.
  • Protein is needed to repair muscles, prevent soreness and replenish glycogen stores; think tofu, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • If you are going to eat a balanced (grains-veg-protein-fat) meal within about an hour post-workout…that is all you need! So if you workout pre-lunch or dinner, no extra snacks necessary.
  • Otherwise, an easy snack is some raw almonds and a small apple. You could also do a smoothie with half a banana, 1 cup of unsweetened soy milk, a bit of cocoa (anti-inflammatory!), some hemp seeds and a small handful of raspberries.

Do I need a protein shake?

  • It’s convenient, but for most average folks, you don’t need it.
  • ​​While adequate protein is important for muscle health and healing/recovery, our standard North American diet provides plenty of protein (even for us veg lovers!).
  • If you’re not going to eat a meal for a while, a simple snack that has a bit of protein + carbohydrates such the options above, or a piece of sprouted grain bread with some nut butter, is a great option post-workout for just a little boost of protein (about an egg’s worth).
  • If you’re looking to increase significant muscle mass, a powder that has 20-25 grams of balanced amino acids is a convenient way to get extra protein in.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

  • For the majority of people, water on its own is sufficient during a work out. Drink 1-2 cups of water about an hour before your workout to make sure you’re starting out hydrated and continue sipping throughout and after. You may need more fluid based on how much you’re sweating.
  • If you’re doing longer workouts or spending time out in the hot sun and getting dripping sweaty, consider an electrolyte powder to add to your water instead of drinking super artificial sports drinks. Wondering if you need one? If you get crampy muscles, or your skin routinely has salt on it post-session, you do!

Sore joints? Go anti-inflammatory

  • I am an on-again, off-again jogger. Usually when I get going, my knees get angry with me so I really up my turmeric intake. Curcumin, the main active in turmeric, is a great anti-inflammatory. Try and consume 1 teaspoon a day in golden mylk, smoothies and curries.
  • Anti-inflammatory foods like olive oil, berries, green veggies, matcha, whole grains, nuts and seeds form the basis of an anti-inflammatory diet that can help with the aches and pains that might follow moderate exercise.
  • ​Keep your hydration status up to lubricate your joints.

Understanding carbs + protein

  • Carbs help to replenish glycogen that is a fuel source for our muscles. If you want to bounce back strong at your next workout, that glycogen is your friend, even if you have weight loss intentions.
  • After a sweat session, our glycogen stores are usually tapped out so having a meal of good quality whole food carbohydrates can replenish our losses. Think whole grains like quinoa, millet, legumes, sweet potatoes.
  • Protein is not just for muscle repair but supporting our immune system. If your workouts aren’t strenuous, you don’t need additional protein but if you start training for a marathon or are looking to build significant muscle mass, you’ll need to talk to a dietitian to get your ratios right.

Does the type of exercise matter for nutrition?

  • The type of exercise, duration of time and level of intensity can influence our nutritional needs.
    *   ​Cardio – aerobic, jogging/running, cycling – getting that heart rate up
    *   Strength – weight training
    *   Endurance – long distance running, hiking or biking
  • If you are in full on training, talk to a dietitian about getting your nutrition right. For the rest of us (jogging 5 k, easy weight lifting or doing a class), it’s all good.

What about fibre?

  • Fibre is critical for keeping your gut running smoothly and fighting inflammation. However, many of us won’t tolerate too much fibre close to a workout; if that’s you, stick to liquid nutrition with easily digestible carbs like a peanut butter and banana smoothie pre-workout.

So much of the writing around fitness nutrition is around training for a marathon or fitness event…but it doesn’t really apply to us who are just out there to feel good and be healthy! So I wanted to write some nutrition tips for the rest of us because eating well will help you feel your absolute best.

A big thank you to my intern, Marilee Pumple, for her help in putting this post together!


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