Nutrition rules that will fuel your workout

What you eat, and when, has a big impact on your energy level and how well you recover from a workout.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your body is a machine. And, like all machines, it needs the right fuel to run well — especially if you are active. But what foods should you eat to benefit your workout? And when?

Rule # 1: Pay attention

You might be surprised how many active adults overlook the importance of nutrition basics — and then run short on key nutrients.

Not getting enough vitamins, minerals and other nutrients can compromise your health and your performance.

Yet fueling up for activity is as easy as following the well-established rules of a healthy diet: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, consume lean proteins, eat healthy fats, get your whole-grain carbohydrates, and drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

Rule # 2: Fuel up (even if your goal is to lose weight)

Give your body the energy it needs to do the job you want — even if you are trying to lose weight.

Skimping on nutrition can reduce muscle mass, lower bone density and cause fatigue. This puts you at risk of injury and illness, increases recovery time, causes hormonal problems, and, for women, menstrual issues.

Make sure your diet plan supplies enough nutrient-dense calories so you can exercise and stay injury-free and healthy.

Rule # 3: Love carbs (you need them)

Carbohydrates get a bad rap with some people. But research over the past 50 years has shown that carbs help your body during long and high-intensity exercise. In fact, the more active you are, the more carbs you need.

But what about the trend for athletes to eat high-fat, low-carb diets? Evidence suggests these diets don't boost athletic performance and actually hinder it at higher intensities.

During a workout, carbohydrates fuel your brain and muscles.

  • Carbs for the average workout — If you are in good shape and want to fuel a daily, light-intensity workout, eat about 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrates for every kilogram of body weight. For someone who weighs 150 pounds (68 kilograms) that's between 200 and 340 grams a day.
  • Carbs for longer workouts — If you exercise more than an hour a day, you may need 6 to 10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight. For a 150-pound person, that's 408 to 680 grams a day.

Pick healthy carbs like brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain bread and pasta, sweet potatoes, fruits, and vegetables.

Rule # 4: Rebuild with protein

Protein is important because it provides the amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscle.

Most research suggests very active people should eat 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That means a 150-pound person should eat 82 to 136 grams each day. People who aren't active should eat less protein. Aim for .8 grams per kilogram of body weight each day.

Good sources of protein are poultry (25 grams in 3 ounces) and fish (20 grams in 3 ounces). Those who prefer to avoid meat can try soybeans (20 grams per cup) and legumes like beans, peanuts and chickpeas (about 15 grams per cup). Eggs, Greek yogurt, cheese and tofu are good sources, too.

Rule # 5: Don't ignore fats

Fat is a confusing topic for many people. But it's essential to a healthy diet. Fat provides energy and helps your body absorb vitamins. Some vitamins (like A, D, E and K) actually need fat to properly benefit your body.

Be sure to pick unsaturated fats. Good sources are avocado, olive and canola oils, flaxseed and nuts.

Rule # 6: Know what you need pre-workout

If you work out less than an hour at a time, eating throughout the day should give you enough energy. However, to avoid GI issues, you may want to avoid eating right before you exercise.

As a general rule, eat one to three hours before your workout, even if you are going to do sustained, high-intensity activity, like a half marathon.

Rule # 7: Remember the post-workout 15

Your body uses its stored energy sources during a workout. After you exercise, you need to restore those nutrients as soon as possible.

Research suggests that eating foods high in protein after your workout (within 15 minutes), provides essential amino acids that build and repair muscles. This may also increase the energy your body puts into storage to draw from in the future.

You'll want to replenish your carbs and fluids after your workout, too. One strategy is to drink a post-workout smoothie.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Feb. 23, 2021 See more In-depth

See also

  1. 3 diet changes women over 50 should make right now
  2. 3 key changes in the new Nutrition Facts label
  3. Acai berries
  4. Added sugar
  5. Alcohol use
  6. Alkaline water
  7. Are energy drinks bull?
  8. Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
  9. Autism spectrum disorder and digestive symptoms
  10. Bad food habits at work? Get back on track in 5 steps
  11. Best oil for cooking?
  12. Dietary guidelines
  13. Breastfeeding nutrition: Tips for moms
  14. Caffeine: How much is too much?
  15. Is caffeine dehydrating?
  16. Calorie calculator
  17. Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?
  18. Carbohydrates
  19. Chart of high-fiber foods
  20. Cholesterol: Top foods to improve your numbers
  21. Coconut water: Is it super hydrating?
  22. Coffee and health
  23. Diet soda: How much is too much?
  24. Dietary fats
  25. Dietary fiber
  26. Prickly pear cactus
  27. Does soy really affect breast cancer risk?
  28. Don't get tricked by these 3 heart-health myths
  29. Don't go cuckoo for coconut water
  30. Eat more of these key nutrients
  31. Eggs: Bad for cholesterol?
  32. Fiber: Soluble or insoluble?
  33. Fish and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  34. Fit more fiber into your diet
  35. Get to know the new Nutrition Facts label
  36. Grape juice health benefits
  37. Healthy-eating tip: Don't forget fiber
  38. Hidden sources of sodium
  39. High-fructose corn syrup
  40. High-protein diets
  41. How to track saturated fat
  42. Takeout containers
  43. Is there more to hydration than water?
  44. Juicing is no substitute for whole foods
  45. Juicing
  46. Limit bad fats, one step at a time
  47. Make food labels required reading
  48. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  49. MUFAs
  50. Need a snack? Go nuts!
  51. Need more fiber? Take 3 steps
  52. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  53. Omega-3 in fish
  54. Omega-6 fatty acids
  55. Phenylalanine
  56. Play it safe when taking food to a loved one in the hospital
  57. Protein: Heart-healthy sources
  58. Health foods
  59. Portion control
  60. Planning healthy meals
  61. High-fiber diet
  62. Sodium
  63. Step away from the saltshaker
  64. Stevia
  65. Taurine in energy drinks
  66. Time to cut back on caffeine?
  67. Trans fat
  68. Underweight: Add pounds healthfully
  69. Want a healthier dinnertime? Science says change your eating space
  70. Daily water requirement
  71. Functional foods
  72. What's considered moderate alcohol use?
  73. What's the difference between juicing and blending?
  74. Working out? Remember to drink up
  75. Yerba mate