The role of healthy eating for exercise

The role of healthy eating for exercise

It is common knowledge that eating fewer calories than you burn will help in losing weight while eating more calories will increase weight and mass. But it is of course not that simple: you have to eat the right stuff at the right time, in the right quantities for your training to be truly effective.

A healthy diet for fitness training can be divided into two parts:

  • Food to give you energy during training. If you are hungry or lethargic, trainig loses ints effectiveness.
  • Food to help recover your energy after training.

Before exercise:   

What to eat: Ideally 1 to 2 hours before exercise. A snack 30 minutes before exercising also works. Eat small portions.

When to eat: You need to eat food that gives you a lot of energy and does not stay in your digestive system for long, or you will feel full and lethargic during your training. Fast digesting carbohydrates and medium digesting proteins fit the bill.

What to avoid:

  • Greasy food rich in fat
  • Food high in fibre
  • Sugary drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee is ok in a limited amount.

During exercise:

If you are exercising for less than 60 minutes, you may not need anything other than fluids.

However, for a longer period, opt for a healthy snack or a protein shake in between sessions.

After exercise:

When to eat: Eat a decent meal within an hour after exercising. If that is at all not possible, eat a snack within 15 to 20 minutes. Your body needs to replenish the energy lost during exercise, and your muscles need to recover.

 Do not go without eating, as this promotes catabolism, which is the breakdown of muscle protein by the body for energy. Eating after exercise also releases insulin, which counters this catabolic effect.

What to eat:

If you have been training for cardio, eat carbohydrates and proteins in a 4:1 ratio

If you have been strength training, eat carbohydrates and proteins in a 2:1 ratio.

Food choices:

Choose healthy items like whole-grain bread and pasta, brown rice, low-fat milk, and lots of fruit. Sugary food in spite of being a high-calorie source will defeat your purpose for exercising. Steer clear of saturated fats. Choose unsaturated fats like nuts.

Whey protein is the most bioavailable protein, followed by eggs and chicken. Include vegetables and other food rich in fiber but not before training as they will make you full.

Drink lots of fluid: water is good, but if you are training for longer, consider an electrolytic energy drink. Drink fruit juices before exercise.

Choose healthy snacks such as bananas, yogurt, energy bars, peanut butter sandwich.


Eat fast-digesting carbs before exercising to have the energy required, and slow-digesting carbs and proteins afterward to help your body recover. Healthy eating and exercise are complementary to each other and when followed together have exponential health benefits. Do what works best for you.

However, remember that everyone is different and has different needs. Many people find it helpful to exercise early on an empty stomach. The key to good nutrition is experience and finding the timing and type of meals that work for your body.

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