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Information about the author of this post.
vjoliv0's picture Vanessa Oliver, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian
College or Department
Lancaster Aquatics Center, room 170
Email Address

I’m exercising regularly and I’m really pumped! Now I can eat all the things! 

Wellllll, not really. It’s very easy to overestimate your calorie burn and underestimate your calorie intake. If weight maintenance or weight loss is your goal, then healthy eating guidelines and portion sizes are still important. 

If you are seriously training for an event such as a weightlifting competition, triathlon, or a marathon, then it would be appropriate to increase your intake overall as well as add in some recovery nutrition. But for the average casual exerciser working out for an hour or less (or about 150 minutes per week), a regular healthful and balanced diet is fine. Your hydration needs don’t go beyond regular water intake, either – there’s no need for a sports drink, energy drink, or other liquid supplement. 

If I want big biceps, I need to eat a TON more protein, right? 

Protein is an essential nutrient, and one of its jobs in the body is muscle development. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean your protein shake is going straight to your biceps. Building muscles is only ONE job for protein, and it isn’t even its most important one.  Protein also builds bone, ligaments, tendons, and hair. It is a component of enzymes that keeps our bodies chugging along, helps create antibodies that keep our immune system strong, and even plays a part in creating cholesterol – both LDL and HDL. You can’t just point toward your muscles and say “GO THERE!” 

The only way to make your muscles grow big and/or strong is to put them to work. Hard work.  And also eat enough calories to support that work. Adequate protein is also important, which is not the same as excessive or even extra. Most people get enough protein from food alone and do not need bars or supplements. If you are eating enough calories, you are likely eating enough protein. 

I heard a fasted workout is the way to go. Or maybe I heard I’m supposed to eat 1 hour beforehand. I’m confused. 

Research supports that fueling before a workout improves performance for many athletes. There is also research that supports working out in fasted state. Factors that account for these disparities seem to include level of training, intensity and duration of exercise, and our favorite and most difficult to control for: individual differences. So, what should you do? 

If you are a seasoned athlete and/or have a workout routine that works for you, listen to your body. There’s no need to be super-rigid about your fueling, as there are no hard and fast rules that apply to everyone. But if you are new to exercise, here’s some advice. If you are already eating and hydrating at regular intervals throughout the day, you likely don’t need additional fuel if you work out at lunch or in the evening. If you haven’t eaten in several hours and are planning on a session of an hour or more, try to eat and also hydrate 30-90 minutes before.  Here’s some ideas: 

  • Whole grain cereal with milk 
  • Toast or banana with nut butter 
  • Dairy or dairy-alternative yogurt with fruit 
  • ½ a cooked sweet potato or baked potato 

The shorter the window before your workout, the simpler and more easily digestible the food should be. Give your GI tract a break and avoid large amounts of fiber or heavy fats before your workout and save the protein for later. You digest these foods more slowly, which takes more blood and oxygen from your muscles. And you might notice some other side effects – many people (myself included) report that their stomach reacts a bit…negatively to having anything at all in it before a run, for example. 

To address the obvious follow-up question, you may or may not need a re-fuel after your exercise session. If your workout was less than an hour, you will likely be fine until your next meal – if your next meal is within 2-3 hours or so. If your workout was more than 60 minutes, go for a quick snack with a 3-4:1 grams of carb : protein ratio. 

These are just general guidelines, though: again, we all have different systems, and a whole lot depends on your individual workout as well as what you’ve already eaten recently. So pay attention to your body, especially if you’re new to working out, and do what is best for you.


If you want more nutrition information, login to your Health and Wellness dashboard to request a free nutrition consult today!