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!