What to eat before exercise to optimize your workout at any age

November 17, 2023

With the school year in full swing and kids and adults gearing up for winter sports its good to think about fueling up so we can feel and perform our best.

Our body needs vitamin and mineral stores which it gets from healthy food to prevent disease, maintain energy and function properly. On top of that, to feel our best, we need to eat well to prevent energy dips, fatigue, headache, mood swings, menstrual issues and other symptoms that will slow us down or will keep us from doing the things we love.

First, let’s talk about children up to 18 years old who are active (which hopefully includes all our children here in Inverness County).

Having a meal two hours before with protein, carbs and fat will sustain them throughout their activity. The exception to this is kids who are very active (exercising more than seven hours per week) and going through growth spurts. If children are exercising more than 1.5 hours, they may need to have a snack towards the end of the hour or within 30 minutes before the onset of their activity to keep their energy levels up. If they do, it should be easily digested foods such as fruit, balanced granola bars or crackers.

Here are some ideas for healthy snacks to feed kids (within an hour of activity or during activity):

  • Oatmeal with berries
  • Balanced energy bar
  • Banana, an apple or other fresh fruit
  • Yogurt
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Whole-grain bagel or crackers
  • Granola Bar
  • Peanut butter and apple sandwich

Two hours before and/or two hours after activity, a healthy meal of protein, carbs and fat is ideal, and will ensure an optimal recovery and prevention of fatigue and illness from lack of fuel and nutrients.

Let’s switch gears and talk about adults now. You may be a walker, runner or someone who enjoys yoga or weights. Adults often don’t need to eat as frequently as children because our caloric needs are less, our stomachs hold more, we aren’t as active, and we aren’t growing. But we do need consistent protein, fat, and carbs in our diet. We don’t need to eat before exercise if we exercise first thing in the morning, but it is a good idea to eat an hour post exercise to prevent muscle wasting. Eating a snack or light meal with carb and protein if it is mealtime will also help to build muscle after your workout.

Here are some ideas.

  • Protein/fruit smoothie
  • Salad with protein
  • Trail mix
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Apple or banana with peanut butter
  • Homemade protein muffins or cookies or pancakes
  • Protein bars
  • Veggies with hummus
  • Corn chips with avocado with a couple of nuts for protein

The fall is the absolute best time to exercise. The temperature is optimal for exercise so don’t miss out on getting out for walks, runs, biking or hitting your gym or workout space in your house during this time. The benefits for your mental health are worth it! If you are having a hard time with motivation, sign up for a class, get a workout buddy so you can be supportive for each other and remember: motivation appears after we start the activity not before. To get motivation we must start. If you are waiting for motivation to come first, you will never get started.

Enjoy your healthy snacks, your workouts, and your post workout time!

In health,
Glenna Calder, Naturopathic Doctor