Fuel For Fitness

Written by Tara Gidus, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N | Published on September 8, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on September 8, 2014

Fuel for Fitness

In order to achieve and maintain good overall health, moderate physical exercise is not just an option — it’s an absolute necessity. Americans lead increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and often spend our days sitting in front of computers at work, only to go home and sit on the couch. Planned fitness activities are needed to counteract this inactive lifestyle, and proper nutrition is necessary to fuel these activities.   

You don’t need a special diet to fuel fitness activities, but a balanced, healthy diet rich in fresh foods is required in order to reap the health benefits. How much and what you eat depends on your goals. Keep these four essential criteria in mind as you create a fitness and eating plan that works for your specific needs and goals.  


Working out increases the demands on the body and therefore increases the need for hydration. When you start breathing heavier, your body loses water. If you sweat, you lose even more water. Make sure you drink 8 to 16 ounces of fluid (preferably water) before, during, and after exercise. The longer you exercise, the more fluid you will need. If you’re doing more than 45 to 60 minutes of high intensity endurance exercise, consider a sports drink along the way.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the average man needs about 3 liters of water each day, and the average woman needs 2.2 liters. your urine is pale yellow, you are well hydrated. If it’s darker, you may need to drink more water.

Balanced Diet

Get a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats with every meal. Don’t just eat all protein or all carbohydrates. All three nutrients are essential for fueling and recovering from activity. Therefore, elimination diets that shun one or more food groups are not recommended for weight loss or other goals. The most sustainable fitness results are achieved with a balance of all nutrients. Eat plenty of fresh produce, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats in suitable portions.

Eat Small, Eat Often

Eat small meals and frequent snacks throughout the day. Your body doesn’t want food all at once; it wants it when the demand is high. By eating small meals throughout the day rather than two or three big meals, you may control your appetite. This doesn’t only help you reach fitness goals, but can keep your energy levels high and prevent spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels. Try to meet your body’s demand of energy by supplying it with food when you need it. Remember to focus on light, healthy snacks. Processed or “junk” food contains empty calories and provides little to no nutrition benefits.

Fuel Up Before, Refill After

Eat before and after exercise (and during if it’s longer than 60 minutes). Ideally, it’s best to eat something close to the time you exercise — from a few minutes to up to an hour before. A banana, yogurt, or handful of nuts is great. Have something to eat within 30 minutes, but no longer than one hour after exercise. Ideally, a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fluid is best. Refueling is important, especially after a strenuous workout. Once you have torched calories and used up glycogen (energy) stores, a nutritious snack will help your body recover. Try a peanut butter whole-grain wrap, or even chocolate milk. 

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