Chew on this: 04/07

Eat to enhance performance and promote recovery

By Jayne Powers

Just like you wouldn’t put regular gas in a high-end sports car, you wouldn’t fuel your body with a candy bar before a workout. Or would you?

If you do, or if you’re not eating anything, you’re doing your body a disservice. Working out on an empty stomach, for example, increases your risk of injury. You also won’t perform as well.

As you continue to work on your summer body this spring, how and when you fuel your body will make or break your success.

Let’s sort through the science and separate fact from fiction. I admit: Some of the science is confusing, inconclusive and changes over time.

Okay, so you’re pumped up for an intense workout. What are some of the most effective eating strategies to maximize your performance? That depends on the time between eating and working out. Essentially, the more time before a workout, the more you can eat.

If the time spread is more than two hours, eat carbs and protein, such as a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich.

For a narrower time spread (more than an hour), carbs and protein are still important, but you’ll need smaller quantities and hence less calories. About 200 calories is a ballpark number. Greek yogurt and low-fat chocolate milk are some options. Soy milk also works.

Yes, dairy can upset a stomach prior to a workout, but if you can, well, stomach it, I like Greek yogurt as opposed to plain because it offers double the protein and half the carbs.

Rushing to the gym? You have less than one hour before you lace up and hit the treadmill. In this case, eat a banana, orange or at least take a few sips of a sports drink.

Remember, you’re calling on your muscles to work. It’s not a huge deal if you’re walking for 30 minutes. Still, it is a good idea to get something in your body.

What’s important is that you pair carbs with a protein. For more guidance on fueling up, I like the “Runner’s World Cookbook” because it categorizes recipes by pre-run.

As for carbs, they are not bad. When you think of carbs, think of carb quality and quantity. In selecting a carbohydrate, here’s another rule of thumb; the fewer ingredients the better.

You’ll want to stick with whole grain carbs and stay away from refined grains. Eat carbs with at least three grams of fiber and fewer than 10 grams of sugar. Watch products that have been enhanced with fiber, such as inulin, which doesn’t have the same health benefits as naturally occurring fiber. Natural food fiber sources include oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice or barley.

Another way to look at carbs: if it takes more than two hands to hold it, don’t eat it. And if it has a cartoon on the box, don’t eat it.

Beans, vegetables and fruit are other sources of quality carbs and fiber.

Also, don’t forget to keep hydrated before, during and after your workout. Water is the most important nutrient.

If you weighed yourself without any clothes pre- and post-workout, any pound lost is water, not fat. Losing two percent of your body weight during a workout will hurt performance.

For every pound lost after a workout, you need to drink two cups of water to rehydrate. I’m not a big fan of drinking coconut water as a sport drink replacement. While coconut water is rich in potassium, a good thing, it lacks sodium, which is a good thing during exercise.

As for water, eight cups a day is more than what people need. Coffee, tea and food all count toward keeping you hydrated. Look at it this way, if your urine is the color of pale lemonade, you’re good to go. But if it is the color of apple juice, that’s bad. Get something to drink, and alcohol doesn’t count.

Other fluid recommendations: Drink cold rather than warm liquids. Cold fluids will cool your core temperature. Drink to replace fluid loss but don’t over drink.

After your workout, you need to recover with something to eat, preferably within 30 minutes. But if you’re way off one day after consistently sticking to a post-recovery meal within that window, you’re not going to put the kibosh on your recovery.

Before I offer you my rule-of-thumb advice on what to eat post-workout, understand that the purpose of eating is to feed your muscles and replenish your energy stores.

It helps to think of your muscles as a sponge, and water is akin to glycogen, which is your body’s prime source of energy. Exercising wrings out water (glycogen). The dryer the sponge becomes after a workout, the more you’ll need carbs to replenish the glycogen to restore your energy. Protein helps rebuild your muscles. However, an hour in a gym isn’t going to totally deplete your glycogen stores; just make a dent in it.

The ratio of carbs to protein post-workout is about two to one. In other words, for every two grams of carbs eaten, you’ll need to eat one gram of protein. For endurance athletes, the ratio is 4:1.

The type of protein also matters. My rule of thumb — the fewer legs the better. Fish first, then poultry, followed by red meat.

For protein shakes, whey isolate has the most protein per serving and the least milk fat and lactose. It is also more expensive compared to whey powder and whey concentrate. Look for about 20 grams per serving of protein.

Other factors will affect your protein needs. They include exercise intensity, duration and type; carbohydrate intake; total energy intake; protein quality; training history; gender and age.

A handful of nuts and fruits is another option. Just be mindful of portion sizes, because nuts are calorie dense.

Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at, or email your fitness questions to

Tags: ,

Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at


  1. Chew on this: 04/07 | exercisefitnesschallenge - April 7, 2015

    […] Chew on this: 04/07 Similar to you wouldn'' t put normal gas in a high-end cars, you wouldn'' t energy your body with a candy bar just before a workout. Or would you? If you do, or if you'' re not consuming anything, you'' re doing your body an injustice. Functioning out on an empty …Read much more on Dayton City Paper […]

Leave a Reply

Got an Opinion?


We are interested to hear what you think.  Please send us a message. [contact-form 4 “Opinion”]  

Yes, Flying Saucers Do Exist!

Allison Maddux (Scandal #5) layout bid against Kathryn Lawson (Riot #38). 2013 USA Ultimate Club National Championships Women's Semifinals

Please don’t call it Frisbee. Colorful flying plastic discs fill the air around this time of year, tossed from hand […]

Debate 7/10: You’ve got mail…for now!


Who in their wildest dreams thought Donald Trump could be a consensus builder? Certainly not me. Donald has done something […]

Bubbles to beat the brunch backlash


I casually peruse food articles, as you might guess. One emerging set of hot takes seems to revolve around brunch. […]

Jump, jive, and wail!


Since 1982, Muse Machine has been a staple of many lives in the Miami Valley. Over 76,000 lives, each year, […]

A Monument to Insurrection


Dayton Society of Artists’ special summer exhibit Alan Pocaro, The Distance Between Us When We Communicate (Detail) By Tim Smith […]