Maximize Your Workouts by Eating like a Pro

The secret to better athletic performance might be stepping up your snack game.

By Tuck Woodstock May 9, 2016

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Image: Shutterstock

If you often feel weak and lightheaded during or after workouts, chances are good you’ve forgotten to fuel your body for all that hard work. Luckily, there’s an easy way to boost energy and performance: eat more tasty food! We spoke with orthopedist and running specialist Dr. Jen Davis PT, DPT to learn how to strategize our pre- and post-workout meals.


According to Dr. Davis, while pre-and post-exercise nutrition is important, it’s much more important to be eating healthfully and consistently throughout our day (and our lives). Pre- and post-workout fueling should help with performance and stamina, she says, but “should not replace a meal or make up for not eating well other parts of the day.” 

Avoid blood sugar spikes (and digestive issues) by eating several small meals throughout the day. Look out for lethargy, irritability, fatigue, and extreme hunger, which are signs of low blood sugar.


Eat or drink 25g of carbohydrate-rich food about an hour before any 30–60 minute workout. What does 25g of carbs look like? Examples include half of a banana, half of a nutrition bar (like Larabar, ProBar Fuel, or Raw Revolution), half of an energy gel, or a scoop of Generation UCAN. For longer workouts, go ahead and eat the entire banana/bar/gel. 


A photo posted by LÄRABAR (@larabar) on


If you’re on a long run, Dr. Davis suggests eating 100 calories after eight miles, and then in five-mile increments; in other words, you should snack at mile 8, 13, 18, 23, etc. “Even if you don’t feel like you need it, it’s a good idea,” she says. “The more you can safely shuttle into your cells, the better.”

The fitness industry has created all sorts of easy energy gels for you to gulp down your mid-run nutrition. Brands include GU, Hammer, Clif, and Vega Sport—one shot is typically about 100 calories. Electrolyte replacers like Ultima are also crucial. Be sure to drink plenty of water to help absorb the nutrients and glucose. 


Most recreational runners and athletes overlook this step, but maximizing your post-workout nutrition can have a huge affect on energy, recovery, and performance. “The body is like a sponge for glucose right after exercise, so it is easy to reabsorb this and restore what is lost,” says Dr. Davis.

For maximum benefits, plan to eat within 30–60 minutes of exercising, and choose food that has a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. (For example, 25–40g of carbs with 8–12g of protein.) Avoid fat, which will slow down the absorption of glycogen into the muscles. Quick and easy options include a protein shake (we recommend Garden of Life RAW Meal or RAW Protein, or Vega Sport Recovery) or a sandwich with protein. 


A photo posted by Julie Morris (@superfoodjules) on


Looking for more nutritious recipes? Dr. Davis recommends perusing Superfood Smoothies by Julie Morris, Eat & Run by ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek, and food blogs like Oh She Glows and Rawmazing. “Even if [you] are not vegan, eating more plant-based meals can really help improve running performance, recovery, and energy,” she notes. We won’t argue with that. Now get out there and eat like a pro!

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