Fuelling Your Body for Exercise

With social distancing and limited access to organized sports, outdoor activity such as walking, hiking and running proves to be a great way to maintain heath and improve cardiovascular fitness during these challenging times. Part of preparing to achieve your fitness goals, is the consideration of proper fueling in the form of the food you eat and fluid you drink pre, during and post exercise.

Proper fuelling is essential to ensure:

  • Sustained quality and intensity of exercise
  • Prevention of digestive upset during your exercise session
  • Avoiding unwanted and distracting hunger during the session

Just as your vehicle requires the proper fuel to operate smoothly, so does your body during increased activity (and every other time as a matter of fact).

Not getting the proper nutrition or hydration can result in:

  • Reduced energy or early onset of fatigue
  • Reduced endurance and/or speed
  • Poor concentration
  • Skill errors
  • Upset digestion
  • Suboptimal body composition

Nutritional Needs

Carbohydrates are always the most important fuel source before and during exercise because they are the form the body can most quickly use to make energy. Carbohydrates are always the limiting fuel, meaning they are the most important source for continued energy during exercise. The common ‘hitting the wall’ phenomena experienced during long intervals of exercise is due to running out of carbohydrates for fuel.

Protein & Fat
Exercise increases the breakdown of protein; therefore, protein is a very important part of recovery post exercise to aid in tissue repair. Fats are less important during and after exercise. Although they are an unlimited source of fuel, they should be avoided during and after exercise because they slow the rate of stomach emptying, which will delay the rate of absorption of nutrients needed for energy and repair.

Timing of Nutrition

2-3 Hours Before Event

  • 30-60 g of carbohydrates
  • Moderate protein (2:1 ratio of carbs to protein)
  • A few ideas include a small bowl of cereal with fruit and yogurt, piece of toast with honey, fruit smoothie, or small bowl of pasta with tomato-based sauce.


  • Activities lasting longer then 60 minutes require a 6-10% carbohydrate solution (30-60 g) per hour to prevent dehydration. See electrolyte drink recipe below.

Recovery is the period of time after a workout to allow regeneration of muscles and tissues. Workouts of medium to high intensity lasting longer than 40 minutes require recovery. Signs that recovery is lacking include muscle soreness and fatigue lasting more than 12 hours, frequent injury and/or frequent illness. Typically, the optimal time to ensure proper recovery nutrition consists of a 30-minute window following the activity. During the first 30 minutes post-workout, the activity of the enzymes in the body responsible for replenishing the sugar stores are most heightened. Do not compromise the recovery meal, as it is the most critical for exercise and continued activity performance.

Optimal recovery nutrition consists of the following.

  • Protein: 20-30 g and upwards of 40 g for older athletes. A liquid source is best, as it empties from the stomach more quickly than do solids, which allows for maximum tissue rebuilding.
  • Carbohydrates: 50 g of simple sugars (fruit). This number can be slightly lower in those that are monitoring weight, and higher in more elite athletes where weight and calories are not being restricted.
  • Avoid fats and fiber post workout, as they will slow digestion of the required nutrients.

Recovery Ideas

  • Smoothie: Protein powder with berries/fruit (or 1 cup of premade smoothie)
  • Greek style yogurt and fruit
  • Egg white omelet with slice of toast and honey
  • Protein bar
  • Chicken and salad
  • Tuna on crackers and a banana
  • Pasta with beef and tomato sauce


Water plays an important role in the body by controlling blood volume and body temperature. During exercise, the body cools itself by sweating; however, if not replaced, the loss of body fluid can lead to dehydration. As dehydration advances, poor focus, fatigue, increased heart rate and body temperature, increased perception of how difficult the activity is and nausea, vomiting and diarrhea during and after exercise can result.

To prevent dehydration during and after exercise the following tips can be helpful:

  • Begin exercise well hydrated to prevent dehydration during. Aim to consume 400-   600 mL of water 2-3 hours prior to beginning your session.
  •  Aim for pale, straw colour urine as a useful sign of adequate hydration.
  • You will continue to lose fluids through sweating and urination after you finish exercising; therefore, plan to replace 125-150% of the fluid lost in the 4-8 hours after you stop exercising.
  • Mix together ½ teaspoon of sea salt, ½ teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of maple syrup, juice of 1 lemon and 1 cup of water to replenish electrolytes during and after your exercise session.


Recovery Nutrition – Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) [Internet]. Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA). 2020 [cited 7 October 2020]. Available from: https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/fuelling-recovery/recovery-nutrition/

Smith-Ryan, Abbie and Antonio, Jose. Sports Nutrition and Sports Enhancing Supplements. Ronkonkoma, NY, Linus Learning, 2013.

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