Building an Effective Meal Timing Guide for Workouts

Learn to strategically yet practically time your meals to maximize your fitness routine.

The timing of meals in relation to exercise can be a crucial factor for elevating your results, optimizing your performance, and supporting overall well-being. But any successful plan should be flexible enough to work with your lifestyle. Learn to strategically yet practically time your meals to maximize your fitness routine. 

Nutrition for fitness goals  

Weight loss

If you’re looking to lean up with a well rounded health routine, include daily activity and focus on minimally processed foods. Getting a variety of higher protein foods can help you keep some lean body and muscle mass while losing weight (1). Higher protein diets in addition to higher fiber foods have been shown to help weight loss and keep it off in the long term (2, 3).

  • Protein-rich foods: lean meat, seafood, soy, low-fat dairy, eggs. 
  • Higher fiber foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans. 

Strength 

The key to strength training is getting enough calories with a blend of the macronutrients. Carbohydrates provide fuel for muscles, protein repairs muscles, and healthy fats help absorb nutrients. 

    • Protein (10-35% total calories): eggs, lean meat, cottage cheese, fish, beans. 
    • Carbohydrates (about half total calories): whole grains, fruits, vegetables.
    • Healthy fats (20-35% total calories): nuts, seeds, fatty fish, plant oils.
    • Enough calories each day (4). 

Endurance 

If your workout is at a low to moderate level (walking, biking, easy tennis, swimming) for less than a couple hours, simply focus on well rounded, regular meals. If you’re doing higher intensity workouts (HIIT, spin, sprints) or endurance training more than a few times a week, your calorie and nutrition needs will increase. 

Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy, especially during high-intensity exercise. Consuming a mix of complex and simple carbohydrates before and after training can help fuel your workouts and support recovery. Aim at eating simple carbs closer to the workouts, and the complex ones further away in time. Complex carbohydrates provide a slower release of glucose into your bloodstream while simple carbs are available quicker so better for faster use (5). 

  • Simple carbohydrates: raisins, bananas, honey. 
  • Complex carbohydrates: whole grains, vegetables, and legumes.

Meal timing guide for workouts 

Distributing your meals evenly throughout the day will provide a steady supply of nutrients to support muscle repair and growth to help you reach your goals. 

Pre-workout

To support your workout and make sure you have the energy to fuel it, while preventing bothersome digestive issues like cramping or diarrhea, eat a larger healthy meal about 3-4 hours before. If you only have 1-2 hours before your workout, prioritize easier to digest carbohydrates and protein like a banana with low fat yogurt or a mixed berry smoothie (6). 

Post-workout

Nutrition after working out can depend on how hard you worked and what you ate beforehand. If you ate about 1-2 hours before a workout, or if you had an intense or long workout (more than about 60 to 90 minutes), it’s good to refuel. An ideal post-workout macronutrient ratio is 3:1 carbohydrates to protein. This will help replace used energy in the form of glucose and protein to repair muscles (7). 

Hydrate right 

Staying well-hydrated is crucial for optimal performance and recovery. Drink water consistently throughout the day and pay attention to your fluid intake during workouts. For longer or intense training sessions, consider a sports drink to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat.

In general, aim for 2-3 cups (8 fluid ounces) about 2 hours before exercise, 1 cup about 5-10 minutes before exercise, then 1 cup every fifteen to twenty minutes during exercise (8). 

Learn more about hydration and if you need to add electrolytes: How to Stay Hydrated for Training and Racing.

Find what works for you

Typically, the precise timing of consuming specific nutrients is less critical than ensuring an adequate daily intake of calories, a well-balanced distribution of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats), hydration, and the inclusion of high-quality foods in your diet consistently. To personalize your workout meals, use a nutrition app: Lifesum

8 references (hide)

All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.

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