Eating to Fuel Your Workout and Your Goals


Sometimes the hardest thing about making weight loss goals that include both exercise and healthy eating is the balance between the two. To lose weight you need a negative calorie deficit, but when you exercise your body needs more calories in order to properly refuel. SO, before going into any of this lets keep one thing in mind- going back to the ABC’s of your goals- you have to remember balance.

Everybody’s body reacts differently to an exercise and nutrition plan, so often times it takes multiple trial and errors. Me? It took at least 3 different go arounds at reworking my diet to balance out my exercise to find something that began to work, but even still, I am tweaking it.

So lets start with the basics, going back to my sports nutrition class and our segment on macronutrients. Knowing the 3 macros, and how each of them work in your body is the first important step.

Carbohydrates: the body’s main source for energy weighing in at 4 kcals per grams. In other words if you eat a slice of whole wheat bread that usually has around 20 grams of carbs in it, you just ate 80 calories of carbs.

20 grams X 4 kcal/gram= 80 calories

You might be sitting there thinking “oh my gosh that is so many carbs!” because you may have been one of those people that have been bombarding with “carbs are evil” diet plans. Let me be clear to you right no carbs are NOT the devil. Without carbs your body will not, without a doubt, get the energy it needs to power you through even the lightest of workouts. Without carbs your body starts metabolizing fats for fuel and due to the lack of carbs it tricks itself into storing any carbs you might consume, often times causing you to bloat with water weight. It’s quite simple, don’t trick your body, and it won’t trick you.

Carbohydrate requirements:

  • 45-65% of calories
  • 3-5 grams per body weight pound

Carbohydrates and exercise:

  • 4-24 hours before= normal carb intake
  • 0-4 hours before= complex carbs that are low on the Glycemic Index (GI scale), carb rich protein, and 1-4g/kg of carbs
  • During= gels, bars, and drinks are needed only for endurance events, consume water every 15-30 minutes
  • After= consume within 2 hours, sooner if you are working out again in that day. High GI carbs and 1-1.5g/kg

For an example of low vs high GI carbs see link:

Fats: although they aren’t the preferred source of energy for the body, they still provide fuel. Weighing in heavier than carbs at 9kcal per gram, this macronutrient packs more in a punch. In other words, less grams of fat can still provide you the same “amount” of energy as carbs. Let’s take almonds for example, a common healthy snack for “dieters”, a serving of these that usually consist of only 24-30 almonds has 15 grams of fat in it. Meaning that by consuming a serving of almonds you will have eaten 135 calories of fat.

15 grams X 9 kcal/gram= 135 calories.

So there you can see how it is easy to start climbing toward your upper limit of fat calories due to their high nutrient density.

But what about the different types of fat? Trans, saturated, unsaturated, omega’s- what do they all mean for your body?

It isn’t often that I try to limit a food group entirely, but when it comes to trans fat you can do just fine without any of it in your diet. Trans fat comes from the fast food and overly greasy, fried foods that you already know are not healthy for you. These fats are made from partially hydrogenated oil and are essentially a normal (still unhealthy) saturated fat mutated into a different form, a form that your body doesn’t recognize or appreciate. Unless you want clogged arteries or heart disease, you should stay away from trans fats entirely

Saturated fats are another unhealthy fat that shouldn’t make up a majority of your diet, in fact keep in minimal (10% or less of your fat). Foods that contain these fatty acids include fatty beefs, butter, cheeses, and other high fat dairy products. Although it is okay to eat these in moderation, if weight loss is your goal you are going to want to track your intake

The good fats? Let’s talk about unsaturated fats including Omega 6’s. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are 2 forms of unsaturated fats that differ based on their number of double bonds (that is less important to remember, just remember that these are good). These unsaturated fats can actually have health benefits such as improving cholesterol, and reduce your risk for heart disease or diabetes, just to name a few. Mono and polyunsaturated fats typically make up olive oils, avocados, nuts, and even peanut butter. So although these foods might be high in calories including fat calories, they are actually good for you, enjoy and don’t overdo it!

Omega-6 fats, as you may have heard before, are highly found in fishy foods. Also found in flax seed and canola oil, these are another branch of unsaturated fats meaning they also have positive health effects. Omega-6’s should be consumed weekly, if not daily, just make sure to not over consume certain types of fish that can lead to mercury poisoning. For more information see link:

Fat requirements:

  • 20-35% of calories
  • Eat fats throughout the day
  • Not important for exercise


Protein: Ah, the macronutrient you’ve been waiting for. Weighing in at 4 kcal per gram, all fitness fanatics hail the protein! Yes, protein is essential to keeping your muscles healthy and ready to be pushed to their limits, but be careful not to consume too much in an attempt to gain muscle mass instantaneously. Protein is not a source of energy for the body, only in desperate cases when your body has depleted all of its other nutrients. The main role of protein is acting as a structural component for cells and tissues. It helps to build and maintain muscle and synthesizes hormones involved in energy production. There are different types or protein just as there are different fats, and the timing of these proteins in relation to your workout is important.

Proteins are made of amino acids (AA’s), some “essential” and some “non-essential” or “not produced by the body” and “produced by the body”. Protein foods are also complete or incomplete. Complete proteins have all of the essential amino acids that your body needs, incomplete proteins are missing a few essential AA’s but can be paired with other incomplete proteins to get all of the essential AA’s. Example of complete proteins include most animal meats, and incomplete proteins include oats, beans, peanuts, walnuts, and other seeds.

Protein requirements:

  • Males: 71-100g
  • Females: 55-62g per day
  • Athletes: between .8-1 g/kg or no more than a gram per pound of body weight
  • 15-20% of total calories

Protein and exercise:

  • 4-24 hours before= normal intake that reflects your macro goals
  • 1-4 hours before= 2-4 ounces of lean proteins plus carbs
  • 1-3 hours after= 6-20 grams depending on goals, intake a 3:1 carb to protein ratio (example= 15 grams carbs, 5 grams protein)


The take away:

  • Calories in<calories out
  • 45-65% of calories from carbs
  • 20-35% of calories from fat
  • 15-20% of calories from protein
  • Ingest carbs before exercise to fuel your body
  • Ingest a 3 to 1 carb to protein ratio after exercise to replenish your body’s main energy source and protect and rebuild the muscles
  • Drink plenty of water!
  • Oh and remember the ChooseMyPlate food guidance system


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