Department of Health & Human Services
Premiers Active April

Nutrition to get the most out of a workout

Whether you love to run, hit the gym or take a leisurely bike ride, it’s important to fuel your body with good food to get the most out of a workout. Dietician, Sophie Robson, answers some common questions about nutrition and physical activity.

Girl running in park

Should I eat before a workout?

We generally recommend having a snack or small meal 1.5 – 2 hours before exercise to fuel your body with some carbohydrates (for energy) and protein (for muscle function). Carbohydrates are found in grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy foods, and protein comes in lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes and dairy.

Go for minimally-processed options such as fruit, yoghurt with oats, a small sandwich, grainy muesli bar, or try a savoury muffin.

When, what and how much you eat before exercising is ultimately up to you and may depend on your fitness goals and the type of exercise you do. You may prefer to eat something different before a high intensity or ‘jolting’ activity like running or basketball, than a lower intensity activity like walking or cycling.

You should aim to feel like you have enough energy to complete the activity but not so much that your digestion negatively affects exercise intensity.

What about caffeine?

Coffee lovers are in luck! Caffeine has been shown to boost workouts by helping to delay fatigue and improve strength. But you only need a small amount to see these benefits – about the size of a small black coffee. Excess caffeine intake can contribute to dehydration, anxiety and sleeplessness.

Should I eat 30 minutes after exercise?Doubles tennis

The 30 minute ‘window of opportunity’ is part truth, part exaggeration. While it’s good to refuel with some carbs and protein, it’s what we eat throughout the day that provides the most health benefits.

We recommend eating a snack 30 – 60 minutes after a workout to prevent fatigue and hunger (which can lead to unhealthy food choices), and having a meal around two hours after.

Ideally, try timing your normal meals and snacks to be your pre- and post-workout foods. For example if you exercise after work, then having dinner at your normal time should be fine. But if you go to the gym before work, you might have just a snack straight away then enjoy breakfast in the staff room a couple of hours later.

What about protein supplements?

Most Australians get enough protein in their diet from whole foods like lean meat, eggs, nuts, grains and legumes. So unless you’re an elite athlete or have specific dietary requirements, protein drinks and bars are more likely to empty your wallet than lead to significant fitness gains.

Are sports drinks helpful?

Sports drinks are specifically formulated to speed up hydration and provide energy (from sugar) for lengthy and high intensity exercise. But for the average workout it’s best to drink water to stay hydrated before, during and after exercise, and avoid the excess kilojoules from sugary sports drinks.

A glass of milk is another good drink for after exercise, as it has a nutritious balance of carbohydrates and protein to refuel, plus electrolytes for rehydration and other naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.

The key to fuelling your body for everyday exercise is to enjoy a variety of foods from the five core food groups, choose water for hydration, and limit the supplements and sports drinks unless advised by your health professional.


nutrition-australiaFor more healthy eating tips and tasty recipes visit Nutrition Australia website.

Last updated: November 29, 2016 at: 5:11 pm

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