How to Fuel Your Fitness: A Dietitian Q&A

Wellness: Health & Fitness
How to Fuel Your Fitness: A Dietitian Q&A

Primary Media


September 23 2021


How does food and nutrition affect athletic performance? What should you eat before and after working out? We got the answers from Elissa Sloss, RD, LD, Vice President of the HealthMarket.

  1. How Does Diet Affect Athletic Performance?

    The food you eat fuels your body and provides energy, so a good diet can give athletes the boost they need for a tough competition or workout. 

    Specifically, carbohydrates provide energy, fluids help regulate your body temperature, and protein helps muscle growth and tissue repair.

  2. Should Athletes Eat a Specific Diet?

    A balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein should give athletes the energy they need.

    However, the amount of each food can change depending on the sport, exercise length, and intensity.

    In general, follow these guidelines:

    • Protein: About 15 to 20 percent of daily calories should come from protein. This likely is enough for the average athlete. People participating in intense training made need up to twice the daily recommended amount of protein.
    • Healthy carbs: Normal nutrition guidelines ought to be enough if you're not training for a specific goal, with about 45 to 55 percent of calories consumed per day from healthy carbs (grains, fruits, and vegetables), and at least half of those from whole grains. Endurance athletes and people engaging in frequent high-intensity training may need more carbs.
    • Good fats: Plan for about 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories to come from fats. Healthy fats like those in avocados, nuts, and olive oil help replenish and maintain energy.
  3. When Is the Best Time to Eat Before a Workout?

    Try eating a small meal or snack 1 to 3 hours before exercising. Limit large meals to 3 to 4 hours before your workout.

    Even eating a piece of fruit 5 to 10 minutes before working out can help provide energy. If you don't eat anything for a few hours before exercising, you might feel lightheaded or sluggish.

  4. Can Sports Drinks Help My Endurance?

    It's crucial to replace fluids before, during, and after exercise, and water is the most important. But if you're exercising for more than an hour, sports drinks can help replenish fluids and provide extra carbohydrates for energy.

  5. Should I Add Supplements Like Protein Powder to My Diet?

    Protein powders, shakes, and bars aren't limited to athletes. These supplements can help almost anyone add more protein to their diet.

    Most people (including athletes) get enough protein from food and don't need supplements. However, research suggests that protein supplements combined with resistance training may help improve muscle mass and strength.

    If you are going to use supplements, here are some suggestions. Follow package instructions or serving size.

    Pre-workout: According to the International Society of Sports Medicine, creatine, a popular pre-workout supplement, can improve exercise and performance and may enhance post-workout recovery. Learn more about creatine.

    Post-workout: Consume protein powders or shakes within 60 minutes of finishing a workout to help repair and build muscles. Whey protein supplements (derived from milk) are among the most effective options.

  6. What Are Some Fitness Meal Tips for Maximizing My Workout?

    Fuel your body before, during, and after exercise to maximize the workout.

    Pre-workout: Eat a light meal or snack with plenty of healthy carbohydrates 1 to 3 hours before exercising.

    During exercise: Drink water during workouts lasting less than 60 minutes. For exercise longer than 60 minutes, replenish fluids and carbohydrates with an energy drink or a small healthy snack.

    Post-workout: Help muscles recover by eating a meal with carbs and protein within two hours of your workout.