Exercise and Nutrition: The Dynamic Duo

By: Serena Pfeiffer, Exercise Science Student & Alison Brantner, Dietetics Student
Reviewed by: Kaylie Brand, Registered Dietitian & Tara Shafrath, Exercise Physiologist

You know those days when you just feel "off" during a workout? Did you know that not fueling your body properly could be a reason for that "off" feeling? Yes, it's true!

Exercise and Nutrition.jpgLet's start with a quick science lesson

When you exercise your body uses energy. In scientific terms, energy is known as ATP. As you exercise. your body requires more ATP for the muscles to function and prevent fatigue. ATP is made in the body from the food you consume. Carbohydrates are a great souce of energy when exercising. When you consume carbohydrates, it is either stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles, or it begins the process of converting to energy. Stored glycogen is used when the body is in demand for more energy -- think workouts longer than 60 minutes -- signaling special enzymes from proteins to break down the glycogen to use for fuel. Because of this, carbohydrates are essential in providing your body energy to get you through a workout! Note that everyone's body has different nutrition requirements, so it is recommended to consult with a registered dietitian to establish nutritional needs. 

Now you may be thinking... Isn't protein essential for working out as well?

YES! Amino acids found within protein rebuild and repair the body, especially when muscles experience muscle hypertrophy (think building muscle). This occurs when muscle fibers tear under stress. As a result, our body heals the fibers and leaves the muscles with an increase in mass and size. An analogy is imagining when you cut your hand. Your skin will repair itself with stronger tissue than before (like scar tissue). It is the same principle for building muscle! Neat, huh?! For this reason, it is vital to consume enough protein for proper muscle recovery and maintenance of lean muscle mass.

Remember that fueling your body for working out also entails hydration! Water replaces the fluids lost through sweat, helping to keep the body cool and comfortable. Aim to drink around 16 ounces of water per hour of exercise or per pound lost by sweat.

What body fuel should you focus on before or after a workout?

Here's what we recommend:



drink-water.jpgTry to eat 1 to 4 hours before your workout, with an emphasis on fueling up on carbohydrates and protein. It is advised to not eat directly before a workout, since your body will prioritize more energy on the breakdown of food rather than the workout itself. Foods higher in fats and fiber tend to slow down the digestion process and may lead to gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort, so be aware!

Below are some recommendations for pre-workout fuel:

  • 1/2 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup fruit
  • 1 apple or banana with 1 tablespoon all-natural peanut butter
  • A handful of almonds and dried raisins
  • Water, water, water!
 This natural pre-workout drink gives you a little boost of caffeinated energy that can impact your workout. (Stay away from sugary pre-workouts and additives.)



Post-workout food should typically be consumed within an hour or two after a workout, whether if you have a complete meal or light snack. Like pre-workout food fuel, focus on carbohydrates and protein to replenish energy loss and promote the reparation of muscles. Your body deserves it! Fuel up with:

  • String cheese and whole grain crackers
  • 6 to 8 oz. low fat chocolate milk
  • Roasted turkey on whole grain bread and vegetables
  • Low fat Greek yogurt and berries (fresh or frozen)
  • Water, water, water!
  • A sports drink to restore electrolyte levels ... only if necessary. Watch out for added sugars!

On a Weight Loss Plan?

If you are on a weight loss plan and are watching caloric intake, it is recommended to indeed refuel but only to a minimum. Try and plan one of your meals in line with your post workout fuel.

About Protein Bars

Protein Bars can be a quick protein fix, but not the best resolution. A majority of protein bars are higher in calories, which can be contributed by the added sugars, not to mention all the extra additives. In addition to that, protein bars with artificial sweeteners may be responsible for the GI discomfort in some people. All in all, protein bars lack the whole scale nutrition you can get from other wholistic food choice options.

Give your body proper fuel.

When you go to work out next, try to break the habit of working out while fasted, and instead make sure your body has sustainable nutrients. Proper fuel energizes your workout and ambition, along with powering growth, recovery, and development. Never forget food and hydrate are fuel and discover fewer “off days” with exercise and proper nutrition! Now with these tips and tricks, go and crush your next workout!

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About the reviewers: 

Kaylie Brand, RD, LD

Kaylie has a wide variety of experience working as a dietitian with people from all walks of life. She has developed plans and recommendations for professional sports teams, college athletic departments, grocery stores, grade school students, hospital patients, and more. In other words ... no matter what your goals are for eating healthier or weight management, Kaylie has the experience to work with you and find solutions.     

Tara Shafrath, MS, ACSM-EP, RYT

Tara has a great combination of academic achievement, broad-based knowledge, and real world experience. Her background in nutrition, exercise, and food science incorporates many of the components of a healthy lifestyle. What makes Tara unique is her ability to develop and implement health programs that meet the needs of real people. She helps people find the right wellness program for them – their lifestyle, abilities, goals, preferences, and health status.   


If you are interested in booking an appointment with Kaylie or Tara, call Minnesota Women's Care at 651-600-3035 or click Book Now.