Heather_C
Guide
Guide

I wish I had known what it means to eat intuitively before I started running marathons, or just running for exercise and for fun. I learned some hard lessons after a lot of food experiments, trials, and many errors. I've been on the marathon starting line feeling a little hungry, and I've been on the starting line feeling like I ate way too much. Neither ended well for my digestive system, or my race goals. (Running is my preferred form of movement, but insert whatever you like to do to move your body!)

 

With or without an exercise goal or challenge in mind, the way we fuel our bodies every day adds up and will impact how we feel during movement.  There are general guidelines for sports nutrition, and I like to combine those with the non-diet concepts to help my clients (and myself) fuel for exercise without rules or rigidity. 

 

Non-diet sports nutrition, and Intuitive Eating, can help you fuel well and enjoy food freedom!

Use the following tips to practice fueling for exercise so you have the energy to enjoy what you love to do, and so that your body has the fuel to keep going! 

 

  • Eat before you exercise! I encourage everyone to do this, always. While intuitive eating concepts focus on "honoring hunger", that doesn't mean we always have to feel physically hungry in order to give ourselves permission to eat. For example: I love to run in the morning, but I don't always feel hungry before I go. I still eat a small snack to give my body some fuel to get going! 
    • I generally recommend eating somewhere around 30-60 minutes before you exercise, but you could experiment with longer or shorter windows of time. I can usually eat a snack 15-30 minutes before exercise and feel just fine. 
    • Pre-workout fuel is ideally a high-carbohydrate meal or snack, as that gives the body quickly-available energy. 
    • How much you eat before a workout can be decided by things such as 1) how much time you have to digest the meal/snack, 2) how long (time) or how intense (effort) your workout will be and/or 3) how well your digestive system can handle food before movement. (If the latter is tough for you, I usually encourage clients to eat something small before and then eat more after, or sometimes eat during movement.) 

 

  • Eat after you exercise! Again, some people don't feel hungry right after movement, but I recommend eating within 30-45 minutes of finishing a workout (or race, or event, etc.) to help your body refuel. This not only helps your body rebuild and get physical benefits from the exercise, but it also helps you ensure you're eating enough to meet your needs. 
    • I generally recommend a meal or snack slightly higher in protein, with some carbohydrates as well. Fats tend to make their way in, but can also be a great thing to add for satiety. 

 

  • Eat foods you love and prefer, not just foods that are "healthy". I always find that clients who restrict foods they love end up feeling powerless around those foods! We don't have to save foods we love for specific days of the week, or rest days, etc. 

 

  • Experiment with sports nutrition, to find what works for you. Every human is different and unique! I try to avoid making recommendations that feel prescriptive or too general, because each person I've worked with has unique needs, preferences, and a different lifestyle. There is no one-approach-fits-all when it comes to sports nutrition! 

 

There is, of course, so much more to be said about non-diet sports nutrition, but I hope this feels like a good place to start! 

5 Comments
Vanessa
Community Manager
Community Manager

Thank you @Heather_C for this, it is so helpful because I never know how or if what I should eat surrounding my workouts! What's your favorite snack before a workout (or does it depend on what you'll be doing that day)?? I haven't found what food makes me feel the best pre-workout yet

molly
Community Manager
Community Manager

I think the biggest mental block to break through was (and is!!) the eating immediately *after* a workout. It's been such a challenge to combat the mental dialogue of "oh, don't counteract all the calories you just burned! The workout will be a waste!" My logical and sound brain knows this is BS (and also the best thing you can do to build muscle is to fuel after a workout), but dear lord decades of women's fitness media has really done a number on our brains! 

 

Also @Vanessa — I just eat whatever sounds good to me and give myself a little time to digest before starting the workout. I've fueled "perfectly" and had hard workouts. I've fueled "poorly" and had great ones. There are so many factors (many of which are mental!) that go into it. Sometimes thats a banana, sometimes its eggs, sometimes it's a bar, sometimes it's an english muffin with peanut butter on it...it all comes back (for me) to un-coupling working out from "EARNING" food.

Vanessa
Community Manager
Community Manager

@molly you are so right. Nutrition and exercise seem so physical, but it is alllll mental. Retraining the way I think about working out and foods have really been the hardest hurdle I face. It's refreshing to hear that you eat what sounds good. I always over-analyze what I need to eat. But that's where intuitive eating plays a big part. Eating what my body wants is probably the best way to "eat well". Thank you for the advice!

Heather_C
Guide
Guide

@Vanessa what I eat/recommend people before a workout depends on a few things: 
1) Timing & what I have available! This is probably the biggest deciding factor. 🙂 How much time do I have and what foods are on hand? 
An example: a 6am morning Easy Run, I'll have a banana with some peanut butter around 5:40 as I'm getting ready, though some people need to eat at least 30 min before going. If we don't have bananas, maybe I'll have a muffin, or a piece of toast. 
2) Type of workout! I can be way more flexible with a pre-workout snack if I'm doing an indoor cycling workout, bike ride, hike, or even a long walk. Before a run? Not as flexible 😉 

3) Intensity of the workout. Hard? Long? Speed work? Easy and steady? Strength or Cardio? Etc.  For a higher intensity (or higher effort) workout, I want a bigger snack and a little more time to digest (maybe 45-60 minutes, and more like a full breakfast (for the morning example)). 

What "works" for a pre-workout snack is so individual! But I hope this helps give you a few things to think about. 

Heather_C
Guide
Guide

@molly  Thanks for sharing this, Molly! I totally agree (and have seen in practice) that we can psyche ourselves out about pre (and post) workout fueling, and cause some stomach or digestive upset from that anxiety or food stress. So I usually try to help people start small and simple -- something that's really comfortable and easy on the stomach, and then we may start exploring a bit with other options over the course of a few weeks or months, as people get more comfortable eating before and after. 

And whew, lots to dig in with the mindset around fuel, of course! I think some of that comes down to re-evaluating *why* we workout, exercise, or move our bodies. Is it from a place of joyful movement and health, and/or a way to try and manipulate our body size? It's rarely one or the other, usually some elements of both of those things. And as you mentioned, our muscle (and health) can really breakdown if we're not fueling adequately and respecting our body's needs. I'm sure quite a few women resonate with that!