Strategic Eating

The best ways to fuel your body

By Tessa Thomas

Getting ready to run | Photo by Matthew Henry

Getting ready to run | Photo by Matthew Henry

Have you ever had that feeling, when doing a workout or playing a sport, where your body just feels great?  You’re not tired, nothing is sore, you find extra strength and speed and for a few minutes you feel almost invincible.  It’s magical.  I think we’ve all experienced this feeling, but unfortunately it tends to be an exceptional experience rather than an everyday occurrence.  

There are many factors that can contribute to these superhero-like performances – rest, sleep, adequate practice or training – but an often overlooked, and equally critical factor, is nutrient timing. Eating the right foods to fuel your body for a given activity at the right time can turn what normally feels like a grind into relative ease, and, dare I say, even fun. 

Runners | Photo by Unsplash

Runners | Photo by Unsplash

If you want to get the most out of your workouts or play better in your recreational soccer league, it’s just not enough to walk out the door with a handful of almonds and a bottle of water.

Pre-Activity

The amount of carbohydrates, fats and proteins – macronutrients – consumed pre-activity has a substantial impact on how quickly fuel is delivered and utilized by your body. Pre-activity nutrient timing can not only improve performance, but aids significantly in the ability to gain muscle mass and lose body fat – two reasons why most of us find ourselves in the gym in the first place!1

Good sugar and fat | Photo by David Di Veroli

Good sugar and fat | Photo by David Di Veroli

Pre-activity nutrition should be based on the goals of the training and is affected by differences in body composition, intensity of the sport and individual sensitivity of the digestive system.  However, we can make a few generalizations: 

  • Pre-activity carbohydrates should have a moderate to high glycemic response (rise in blood sugar) for shorter more intense workouts, and a lower glycemic response for more prolonged activities that extend over a couple of hours.2

  • Pre-activity protein facilitates muscle synthesis and can help to maintain stable blood sugar levels, for these reasons we want to consume a protein that digests quickly so that it can be used during the window of our activity.3

Fat consumption should be minimal to normal prior to activity, it is not necessary to consume additional fat.4 One of the only exceptions here is if you are an endurance athlete who needs to improve the body’s ability to utilize fat as a fuel source, but the details of that are beyond the scope of what we are discussing here.

The chart below provides examples of pre-activity snacks and meals that are great for a few common activities - the examples can of course have substitutions where food allergies, preferences or other dietary concerns are present and are intended only as an illustrative tool.

*Based on the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (6-20) where 9 or “Very Light” is like walking slowly, 13 is “Somewhat Hard”, but OK to continue, 17 or “Very Hard” is very strenuous, 19 is extremely strenuous or “Extremely Hard” and 20 is “Maximal Exertion.”5

**Nutrient ranges are provided, but can vary greatly depending on weight, gender, and digestive sensitivities, feel free to experiment within the ranges provided to determine the nutrient amounts that work for you, or consult a nutritionist.6/7

Sandwich | Photo by Jay Mantri (Pexels)

Sandwich | Photo by Jay Mantri (Pexels)

Equally as important as pre-activity nutrition is post-activity nutrient timing.  The key here is to avoid “post-workout procrastination.” There is a 30-60 minute window after your workout or activity where receptors in the cells of your body are more sensitive to insulin, and it is during this time that they will more efficiently accept the nutrients that you eat, but, again, this window begins to close as soon as you finish your workout or activity.  

The best suggestion here is to simply be prepared.  If you won’t be home within a few minutes of completing your workout, class, or game then bring a snack or post-activity meal with you, and if you’re working out at home prepare a post-activity meal ahead of time so that you aren’t losing precious nutrient timing minutes to literally watching water boil.  

Pro-Activity

Similar to pre-activity nutrient timing we can make a few generalizations to provide helpful guidelines:

  • Post-activity carbohydrates keep muscle breakdown rates low by raising insulin levels – a quickly digestible form of carbohydrate allows this to happen faster. Second, post-activity carbohydrates also replenish muscle glycogen levels, further preventing muscle breakdown and decreasing recovery time.8
  • Post-activity protein facilitates repair and maintenance of muscles and enhances recovery from training, it can also improve sleep quality. Again, in most cases, we want this to be easily digestible.9
  • It is not necessary to consume any additional fat to support post-activity recovery.10

Here are some examples of post-activity snacks and meals added to the previous list of common activities.

Weightlifter | Photo by Isabella Mendes (Pexels)

Weightlifter | Photo by Isabella Mendes (Pexels)

The next time you hit the field, court or gym you’ll be fuelled to perform your best and prepared for a quick recovery. May your days of superhero-like strength, speed and agility be many.


1 Austin, Krista and Bob Seebohar, Performance Nutrition: Applying the Science of Nutrient Timing. 93. 2011. Human Kinetics

2 Mondazzi, Luca and Enrico Arcelli, “Glycemic Index in Sport Nutrition.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition (2009) 28:455S-463S.

3 Kerksick, Chad M. and Brian Leutholtz, “Nutrient Administration and Resistance Training.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2005) 2:50

4 Miller, Sharon L. and Robert R. Wolfe, “Physical Exercise as a Modulator of Adaptation to Low and High Carbohydrate and Low and High Fat Intakes.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1999) 53:1:S112-S119

5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale)” https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/exertion.htm

6 Performance Nutrition, 93-102

7 Matthews, Michael, Bigger Leaner Stronger. 230-243. 2012. (E-book edition) Oculus Publishers

8 Haff, Guy G., Mark J. Lehmkuhl, Lora B. McCoy and Michael H. Stone, “Carbohydrate Supplementation and Resistance Training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2003) 17:1

9 Biolo, G., K. D. Tipton, S. Klein and R. R. Wolfe, “An Abundant Supply of Amino Acids Enhances the Metabolic Effect of Exercise on Muscle Protein.” American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism (1997) 273:1:E122-E129

10 Fox, Amanda K, Amy E. Kaufman, Jeffrey F. Horowitz, “Adding fat calories to meals after exercise does not alter glucose tolerance.” Journal of Applied Physiology (2004) 97:1:11-16


Disclaimer: Good Read Magazine and its contributors are not responsible in any manner for any injuries that may occur through following the instructions contained in this material; this article is solely for information and educational purposes and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult a medical or health professional before beginning any exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.

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