Fueling your body before, during, and after a workout is crucial for optimizing performance and building muscle. However, an athlete’s nutritional needs depend on the activity type, intensity, and duration. Here is a quick guide to help you determine if, what, and when to eat to improve your athletic performance and recovery.
- If aerobic activity (a.k.a. cardio) lasts less than 45 minutes, no pre- or post-exercise nutrition is usually needed.
- If aerobic activity lasts more than 45 minutes, a pre-exercise snack, rich in carbohydrates, eaten 30 to 60 minutes before activity, can help prevent fatigue and improve performance.
- The food groups found on the top half of MyPlate are richest in carbohydrates: fruits, grains, and dairy foods.
- To reduce upset stomach during exercise, choose pre-exercise snacks that are easy to digest like low-fiber fruit (e.g. banana, not raspberries), chips, crackers, low-fat milk, and yogurt.
- If exercise lasts 1 to 2.5 hours, including “stop and start” sports, mid-exercise snacks can improve performance and delay fatigue.
- Athletes need 30 to 60 g of carbohydrate (120 to 240 calories) per hour during endurance activities.
- To prevent indigestion, choose easily absorbed snacks like sports drinks, gels, gummies, and beans.
- If the exercise includes muscle-strengthening activities, a post-exercise snack, rich in protein, eaten within 30 minutes after the activity, can help improve recovery.
- To maximize muscle protein synthesis post-exercise, consume 0.25 to 0.3 g protein per kg body weight (0.114 to 0.136 g / lb). For most people, this is about 15-25 g protein.
- In general, muscles want 3 to 4 times more calories from carbohydrates than from protein. The ideal carbohydrate to protein ratio is 4:1.
- If a post-exercise snack contains 20 g protein, this means also eating 80 g from carbohydrate (e.g. 5 slices of bread or 5 cups of fruit).
- Examples of 4:1 ratio foods include chocolate milk, turkey sandwich, or regular Clif bar.
Written by Adair Lindsay with the assistance of Hannah Berkon