How often do you switch up your workouts? While there are advantages to sticking to a routine, making a few tweaks can keep things feeling fresh – as well as ensuring you continue to enjoy exercise.

The same goes for diet. There are some easy ways to refresh your approach to nutrition that will help you feel your best and, importantly, support your workouts.

“Nutrition can have a significant effect on your performance during your workouts as well as supporting optimal recovery,” says Registered Nutritionist Jenna Hope.

“Ensuring you’re fuelling up properly and with adequate nutrients is essential to getting the most out of your sessions.”

Jenna Hope nutritionist
Nutritionist Jenna Hope

We’re not talking about a drastic change – it’s all about finding the right foods to fuel your workout.

“The type of fuel and the amount of food you consume before your session will be unique to you and the type of exercise you’re engaging in,” says Jenna.

“However, there are a few fundamentals which should be considered.”

Read on for Jenna’s top suggestions for workout nutrition.

Refresh #1: Load up on carbs

Carbohydrates are considered the body’s primary fuel source. They are broken down into glucose for our bodies to use for energy. Excess glucose is converted into glycogen and stored. These glycogen stores are what we tap into during prolonged endurance or high intensity exercise. Fuelling up on carbohydrates can increase your glycogen stores.

There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Around 3-4 hours before your workout it’s recommended to consume a source of complex carbohydrates, as these are released slowly and will help to provide sustained energy. Sources of complex carbohydrates include:

  • Oats
  • Beans
  • Vegetables
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa

If you like to have a snack ahead of your workout, simple carbohydrates work well because they’re released faster. Opting for a source of simple carbohydrates around 30-45 minutes before a workout can provide an extra boost of energy. Sources of simple carbohydrates include:

  • Toast with jam
  • A glass of fruit juice
  • A medjool date
  • A banana

Refresh #2: Check your protein

Salmon fillets in a baking tray

Protein is commonly associated with post-workout nutrition because it plays an important role in muscle repair and recovery. However, it’s also vital for supporting energy – protein consumed ahead of a workout can help to provide sustained energy. You can also add protein to your shakes for additional supplementary nutritional benefits.

It’s recommended to consume around ¼ of your bodyweight (measured in kgs) in grams of protein. For example a 70kg individual would require around 17.5g of protein ahead of an intense or long session. The best sources of protein include:

  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Poultry
  • Beans and pulses

Refresh #3: Start to pre-hydrate

It’s important to hydrate yourself prior to and throughout your workouts, as this will help with supporting energy levels and optimising performance. On particularly hot days in summer you may need to consume more fluids due to excess sweat production.

Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium are lost through sweat – topping them up beforehand can help to limit losses post exercise. Milk, dairy and fruits and vegetables are great sources of electrolytes.

Refresh #4: Consider the benefits of caffeine

A cup of black coffee

Research suggests that consuming caffeinated coffee ahead of a 1-mile run increased speed by 1.9% when compared to a placebo.

It’s important to highlight that caffeine should be used in moderation – in individuals who are particularly sensitive to caffeine it can stimulate bowel movements, and contribute to stress and anxiety too.

Refresh #5: Introduce magnesium and omega-3

Two other key nutrients which can help to support your training and recovery are magnesium and omega-3. Magnesium plays an important role in supporting the energy production that is required to see you through a workout.

Key sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, almonds, beans, avocado and bananas. Try whizzing up a smoothie packed with yoghurt, bananas and spinach as the perfect pre-workout drink.

Magnesium also helps with muscle and nerve relaxation and can therefore help with supporting post-exercise muscle repair and recovery.

Omega-3 is a type of polyunsaturated fat and plays an essential role in managing inflammation which commonly occurs as a result of exercise. The best source of omega-3 is oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and herring) as this is present in the active forms of EPA and DHA.

Don’t eat fish? Plant sources include: flaxseeds, walnuts, seaweed and chia seeds. Remember that if you’re relying on plant sources you may to consume more than you would if you were consuming oily fish.

Refresh #6: Think about the details

A bowl of fruit

I also recommend trying to incorporate some fruits and vegetables in your pre-workout meal or snack, as these contain antioxidants and can help to reduce the impact of free radicals which are produced naturally throughout exercise.

Do remember though our diets are very unique to us. It may take a while to work out which meals and snacks are best for you and your exercise performance, so don’t feel pressure to copy what anyone else is doing.  

Focussing on your pre-workout nutrition can really help to support your exercise performance, your recovery and your results. If you’re working out without supporting your nutrition, you’re likely to feel fatigued much faster.

Nutrition tips for specific workouts

An older couple doing yoga outdoors

Yoga/ Pilates: As this is a lower intensity workout, opt for something small and light to provide you with just enough energy to see you through, but nothing too challenging for your digestive system to handle. A yoghurt with some berries or half a banana would be ample.

HIIT: This is a higher intensity workout and therefore fuelling up properly is key. A slice of toast with scrambled egg, white pitta with hummus or a banana smoothie would all be great options for a pre-workout snack.

Strength: Try complex carbohydrates a good few hours ahead of your session along with a source of lean protein to help support energy requirements throughout a strength session. Good options are brown rice and chickpea or chicken salad or oat cakes with cottage cheese and tuna.

LISS: Low intensity stead state exercise requires a good supply of complex carbohydrates in order to deliver constant energy throughout a prolonged walk or steady state jog. Try a sweet potato with tuna and butter beans or a bowl of porridge ahead of a LISS session.

Once you’re fuelled up, get in the right mood with our summer workout playlist.

References

Clarke, N. D., Richardson, D. L., Thie, J., & Taylor, R. (2018). Coffee ingestion enhances 1-mile running race performance. International journal of sports physiology and performance13(6), 789-794.