Fuel Your Workout: A Simple Guide to Timing and Planning Nutrition

exercise equipment and healthy food scattered on a table to show nutrition for exercise

Nearly as important as the workouts you do, is how you fuel them. The right nutrition for before, during, and after your workouts can help to optimize your training goals, whether you aim to improve body composition, athleticism or overall health.

The information below will help you to establish a good nutritional foundation with which you can create a simple and easy to follow workout-nutrition plan. Keep in mind that the macronutrients included below are only a guideline – you should adjust according to your own calorie needs.


The purpose of this meal is to fuel your workout. Your body has some glycogen stores, but a meal will help you to feel more energetic and prepared for exercise.

When to Eat:

You should eat no sooner than 30 minutes before a workout, and no later than three hours. Try to reduce the volume of your meal the closer you eat to your workout to avoid digestion struggles mid-training.

How Much to Eat:

This meal should be composed of mainly protein and complex carbohydrates. Eating too many fats will cause you to feel sluggish during your workout. 
Your protein should stay about the same regardless, but the ratio of protein and carbohydrates will depend on the duration and intensity of your workout, as described here:
  • 30-60 minutes low intensity: 20g protein, 20g carb (1:1)
  • 1-2 hour of low-moderate: 20g protein / 30g carb (1:1.5)
  • 2+ hours high intensity: 20g protein, 40g carb (1:2)

What to Eat:

Many different foods are acceptable here, but try to stick to proteins and complex carbohydrates that easily digest and absorb. Too many vegetables will make digestion more difficult. Try these:
  • Eggs and oatmeal with fresh or dried fruit
  • Chicken with rice
  • Protein shake (whey or plant-based) with fruit
  • Granola with dried fruit and nuts
  • Fresh fruit and nut butter

Optional: Intra-Workout

You should have this meal if you are training at a high intensity and for a long duration of two hours or more.

When to Eat:

About 30 minutes into your workout, start to slowly eat/drink your intra-workout snack.

How Much to Eat:  

Keep this snack to mostly carbs, about equal to the amount of carbs that you had in your pre-workout meal.

What to Eat:

The quicker the carb, the better. Some athletes will even opt for candy mid-workout. Try these quick snacks:
  • Sports drinks
  • Granola or energy bar
  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Sports gels or gummies

Post Workout

This meal is important because it will help you to recover from your workout, which will in turn better prepare you for the next one By the end of a workout, your body will be depleted of calories and in need of fuel to replenish, repair, and build the muscles that you worked.

When to Eat:  

Try to eat as soon as possible and within two hours to optimize your recovery.

How Much to Eat:

Your meal should be composed of a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.  As with your pre-workout meal, your protein and fats can stay the same regardless, but carbohydrates depend on the intensity and duration of your workout.  You can also increase your fats if you need to eat extra calories for the day.
  • 30-60 minutes low intensity: 20g protein / 20g carb / 10g fat (1:1:.5)
  • 1-2 hour of low-moderate: 20g protein / 30g carb / 10g fat (1:1.5)
  • 2+ hours high intensity: 20g protein / 40g carb / 10g (1:2:.5)

What to Eat:

  • Chicken, rice and vegetables
  • Lean steak, potato, and salad
  • Lentils with stir-fry or curried vegetables
  • Protein shake (whey or plant based) with toast and fruit
  • Eggs on tortilla with salsa, vegetables, and avocado
You can progress your fitness far with quality workouts and training alone, but more structured nutrition timing and composition can help you to further optimize progression towards your goals
This guideline is to be used as a foundation from which you can create a more consistent and individualized plan. Try out the timing and meal options to see what works best for you and your goals.
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