It's important to eat and drink enough before, during, and after your workouts.

Today’s post was contributed by Registered Dietitian Kate Sweeney, manager of the Nutrition Consultation Service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and a key member of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at BWH. Kate is an accomplished triathlete and is ranked among the top 18 female triathletes, ages 30-34, in the country.

Whether you are training for a marathon or just working on improving your fitness level, making sure you eat and drink enough before, during, and after your workouts is an important part of optimal sports nutrition. If you’re under-fueled for training, you may experience hunger in the middle of your workout or feel sluggish. You also may feel that you’re working hard but not seeing improvement in your strength or endurance.

To be adequately fueled for each workout session, snacking between meals and eating during training is often required. Being consistent with your nutrition before, during, and after training sessions also is key to training and success on athletic event days.

Here are some guidelines:

Pre-Workout Nutrition

Pre-workout snacks provide energy, add to glycogen stores, and decrease risk for low blood glucose levels. If you are planning a workout lasting one hour or more, or your workout is of high intensity, a smaller meal of 50 grams carbohydrate two to three hours before, or a snack of 15-25 grams carbohydrate one hour before can be consumed.

Tips:

  • Avoid high-fiber and high-fat snacks one to two hours before a workout to minimize stomach upset.
  • Snacks with 50 grams of carbohydrate: a peanut butter sandwich; a banana and one cup Greek yogurt; an apple and two or three graham crackers; or one slice of cheese with 10-12 crackers.
  • Snacks with 15-25 grams of carbohydrate (a fist-sized snack): a banana; a slice of toast with honey; a handful of cereal and half a sports bar.

During Training:

The duration of your training session will determine your need for nutrition. Generally, for workouts over one hour, you will need nutrition during the workout.

Tips:

  • Carbohydrate should be the primary fuel during training or racing to provide quick energy.
  •  Protein should be minimized because it decreases absorption of carbohydrate.
  • Aim for fluid and food with a mixture of types of carbohydrate, like starch, maltodextrin, glucose, and fructose, but avoid products with mainly fructose because excess fructose can cause GI upset.
  • Liquids, like sports drinks, should be sipped and are available quicker than solid foods. Consume solid foods in small, frequent bites with water or a sports drink to avoid stomach upset.
  • For workouts of moderate to intense activity levels lasting one to two-and-a-half hours, aim for snacks of 30-60 grams carbohydrate per hour. (Note: A smaller person may need closer to 30 grams per hour, while a larger individual will need closer to 60 grams.)

Fluids and foods with carbohydrates ideal for consumption during training include:

2 cups sports drink 28 grams
2 ounces (handfuls) raisins 30 grams
1 tablespoon honey 28 grams
1 sports/energy gel 23-30 grams
Sports/Energy Bar 45 grams
Low-fat granola bar 42 grams
Note: Adjust amount based on workout length and intensity.

Post-workout Nutrition

Post-workout nutrition replenishes fluid, recovers glycogen stores, and rebuilds muscle. If your training was long and/or of very high intensity, eat a snack within one hour of your workout.

Tips:

  • Aim for snacks with a three-to-one or four-to-one ratio of carbohydrate grams to protein grams (e.g., 35-50 grams of complex carbohydrate and 12-15 grams of protein). Examples include one cup of low-fat chocolate milk, almond butter on one slice of whole wheat bread, a handful of nuts with ¼ cup raisins, ½ turkey sandwich, or one cup plain Greek yogurt with ¼ cup granola.
  • If your training was short or of low-intensity, you can substitute a meal for a snack within two to three hours of your workout. Make sure your meal includes a lean protein (like tofu or chicken), complex carbohydrate (like brown rice or whole grain bread), and healthy fats.

Being consistent with your nutrition before, during, and after training sessions is key to training and success on race day. Practice smart snacking each training session so your body is primed and ready to go on race or game day.

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