Fueling Your Body

Over the next two weeks there will be several guest posts that will help you keep your body in top shape on the inside and out that are part of our countdown (and giveaway) in support of triathlete Laura Bennett before she races in the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series in London to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

This guest post is from Teri Patterson, a Certified Fitness instructor and Fitness Coach who specializes in athletic performance for those with food allergies, adrenal fatigue, and injuries.

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Eat to Maximize Your Workouts

By understanding what your body needs to fuel your workout properly, you can make a difference in how you feel on a daily basis in addition to progressing in your exercise program.

Fuel: Not Just Food

The first step is to rethink of food as a fuel for your body to achieve your level of activity, whether that’s casual movements or athletic competition.  Proper food selection and timing of intake will determine how your workouts are maximized.

Remember that the intensity of your workouts will determine how much and how often you need to eat.  Your body will let you know if your food intake is enough or too much for your exercise level.


Breakfast is essential no matter what time of day your workout is scheduled.  For most people, the last meal was the night before and blood sugar has dropped during the night.  If you workout in the morning try to eat 1-2 hours before exercise in order to raise the blood sugar to avoid becoming lightheaded or having a sluggish workout.  If you exercise soon after waking, eat a smaller snack of protein and carbohydrates (carbs) to fuel your workout and give enough energy to last till your next meal.


So how much food should you consume?  That’s the question everyone asks. Eating too much or too little will hinder your workouts and leave you feeling sluggish the rest of the day.  How much you need to eat is determined by your activity level.  And less isn’t the best.  Starving yourself will only make your body shut down and conserve what energy you have for the entire day.

Generally the average active woman should be consuming no less then 1500 cal/day.  If you participate in intense exercise for 1-2 hrs per day you may need closer to 2000 cal/day.  Good whole food is going to fuel your body with the needed nutrients to continue progressing in your workouts.


We touched on this with the breakfast discussion but the times that you eat are just as important as what you eat.

Determine your daily eating schedule based on what time of day you exercise.  From experience you will know how many calories to eat per day that fuels your activity level and makes you feel optimal.  Then determine if you are a morning or evening exerciser.

For example, I am not a morning person and I workout at 5:30pm every day. But I also have insulin issues and have to eat a set number of carbs every 4-5 hrs.  It’s hard for me to eat a large breakfast right away when I wake, so I customize my plan to fit both my lifestyle and my insulin issues.  I have a small low-sugar protein shake after waking (which isn’t at dawn…I told you I’m not a morning person!)  Then I will have a small meal of mostly protein and some complex carbs 4 hrs later, and another 4 hrs after that.  This puts me at about 1-2 hrs before my workout.  Then normal meal within 1-2 hrs after my workout. Then a protein/carb snack before bed.

Remember the “food is fuel” idea?  Along with timing throughout the day, your food should supply you with energy for your daily activity and your workouts.  General idea is to eat enough calories and divide up those calories in the best way to coincide with your schedule.


So what exactly should a snack be pre-workout?  Well the basic concept is to eat a light, easily digestible snack that contains both protein and complex carbs.  If you ingest a heavy, fatty snack (or small meal) the body will use it’s “energy” to digest that food instead of sending “energy” to your muscles, which are needed for low or high intense workouts.  Good snacks would be vegetables with hummus,  a low-sugar protein bar, a fruit/yogurt smoothie or an apple with nut butter.

The key to determine the best snack option is how you feel.  Eat what works for you and your workout.  Some people feel nauseous eating before a workout, especially power yoga where bending is involved. And the opposite effect of becoming dizzy if not consuming enough before hand.


Just as important as what to eat before exercising is what to eat after wards.  Post workout your muscles need to recover and replace lost glycogen stores which is done by eating foods that consist of protein and carbs again within 2 hours.  Good options are cheese/meat with crackers, yogurt with fruit, nuts/fruit, protein shake or your regular scheduled meal.


To maximize your workouts and eating plan, water is an absolute must before, during and after exercise.  Your body uses water to regulate internal temperature, transport nutrients to internal organs, oxygenates cells, removes fat/waste and protects joints.  New studies estimate that one should drink 1/2 their body weight in ounces per day.

For example a 150lb person would aim for about 75oz of water per day.  On top of that, drink an extra 8oz of water every 20 minutes of exercise due to loss of fluids via sweating.

If you workout for more then 60 minutes and/or in the summer time when humidity is higher, you may need to also replace sodium and vital mineral levels that are also lost through sweating.  Those that suffer from adrenal/thyroid problems have an even harder time retaining minerals so electrolyte replacement is even more necessary.

Popular sports drinks can help to maintain proper levels of electrolytes but if you are avoiding sugar and high carbs you can make your own “electrolyte” water by adding 1/4-1/2 tsp of himalayan salt, and either take a potassium/magnesium supplement or eat 1/2 banana during the workout.

A whole banana is about 30+ grams of carbs…so I suggest 1/2 banana before the workout and then eat the other half a a post workout snack.

When it comes to proper fueling for your workouts, remember that no one plan fits everyone.  Pay attention to how you feel during your workout and monitor your performance.  In addition to a workout log/journal, take notes of what you’re eating and the results.  You’ll find what works best for your body and your workout regime.

Teri Patterson is a Certified Fitness instructor and Fitness Coach who specializes in athletic performance for those with food allergies, adrenal fatigue & injuries.  A former NCAA golfer and coach, she now teaches Aqua Swim Power classes, plays hockey, and continues to help others with their fitness goals and programs.

If you have a nutrition or fitness question or would like a coach to guide you in your workout program contact her at teri [at] body-systems.net or visit www.bodysystemsfitclub.com

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