Written by Emily Satrazemis, RD, CSSD | Photography by Paul Buceta

There’s so much more to being fit than just eat, sleep, train, repeat. Read on to find out which nutrients your body needs to support your training style.

Without a doubt, fueling your workout is essential for optimum training. Would you attempt to go on a road trip without gas in the tank? But this rule doesn’t only apply to what you eat right before training; it encompasses your overall diet. Making sure you’re getting enough calories and the right balance of nutrients on a daily basis helps keep your gas tank full and gives you the ability to train your hardest. But what your body and level of training requires won’t be the same as the next person’s, which is why it’s important to know exactly which nutrients (as well as how much and when you consume them) will give you what you need to perform and recover optimally. Whether you’re training to run 26.2 miles or you love hitting the iron, read on to find out how to make your next workout your best ever.

A lot of fueling is based on personal preference as well as the level and duration of training. For some, it is necessary to eat right before a workout to top off blood sugar levels, for others a meal 4-6 hours before training, or even training on an empty stomach is sufficient. Hitting a wall or not performing at your highest potential is a good way to tell you’re not getting enough carbs or calories. In this case, adding a little more to your last meal prior to training, or having a pre-workout snack may be the solution.

It is so important to ensure you are including enough carbohydrates to meet your training demands; choose starchy and complex carbs, like potatoes, pasta, and whole grains, for meals 4-6 hours before your workout, and more quick-acting sugars like honey, fruit, or a sports drink, 30-60 minutes before your workout (these can also be beneficial during longer workouts to keep you lasting longer). Focus not only on the type of workout, but also on how you’re feeling to better understand your needs—your body will tell you if you are not getting enough fuel or need a little boost to keep it going longer.

After a tough workout, your muscles act like sponges, ready to absorb carbs and protein efficiently in their depleted state. The correct balance of these two nutrients (a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1) in your post-workout meal not only helps to replenish your glycogen stores—refill your gas tank—but can also help repair muscle breakdown that occurs during training, synthesize more lean muscle, and improve overall strength.

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However, fat should be limited in post workout snacks and meals as it can slow the absorption of the protein and carbohydrates your muscles so desperately need. If you are feeling unusually sore, it may be because you’re not getting enough nutrients for recovery. What’s more, a lack of proper recovery nutrition (or none at all) can make you hit a wall faster the next time you train.

Just like you wouldn’t head out on a road trip without putting gas in the tank, you wouldn’t put the same fuel in a Ferrari that you would in a sedan. The type of fuel you burn should directly correlate to the type of fuel you consume, meaning that different training styles require a different balance of nutrients (see the chart “Learn What You Burn” on page 20). In order to get the most out of your speed and strength, you need carbohydrates, and how much depends on the intensity and duration of your training. Your protein needs are also dependent on muscle use and breakdown; if you are lifting or strength training, protein is essential to build, repair, and maintain your lean mass. Fat is what you burn at rest or during very low intensity, and offers a great source of calories without having to dip into your glycogen stores for energy, so your tank is full for when you need it. Here’s how you should be fuelling up before and after specific types of training: