Pre-Exercise Nutrition Guide

What’s fuelling you during exercise? When you choose the right foods at the right time, the pre-workout meal can help:

  • Prevent low blood sugar (a drop in blood sugar an leave you feeling tired, sluggish and less alert)
  • Maintain glycogen (This is the stored form of carbohydrates in our muscles and liver that we can use for fuel)
  • Minimize hunger pangs
  • Prevent stomach aches, bloating, trips to the washroom, gas or other GI issues

These are all things that can help you maintain your energy, alterness and allow you to train hard during your workout. What to eat can depend on the individual and the type of exercise, but below are some guidelines and examples.

Rates of Digestion

Our body digests carbohydrates, protein and fat at different rates. Protein and fat take longer to digest, so by consuming high amounts of these foods close to exercise means that these foods may be sitting in your stomach instead of used that food as fuel. During exercise, digestion slows down substantially.

Because fat takes longer to digest, avoid foods high in fat close to your workout in order to avoid cramping and a heavy feeling in your stomach. This includes deep fried foods, ice cream and oils.

In general, the closer to your workout that you eat, the more you want the meal or snack to be composed of carbohydrate rich foods (easier to digest and will provide fuel during exercise), and less of protein, fat and fibre. Be careful about the types of carbohydrates that you choose though. High fibre foods are typically excellent for our health, but close to a workout may cause gas, bloating and cramps because we can’t digest them in time. Watch out for beans, raw vegetables (in particular cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage), and high fibre cereals like fibre 1.





It’s all about timing

What and when should you eat before a workout? Base this off how close to exercising that you will be eating:

3-4 hours before

At this point its ok to have a full, balanced meal like you typically would as there should be plenty of time for it to digest. Have a balanced meal that contains carbohydrates, as well as a serving of protein and some healthy fat.


Whole wheat toast with peanut butter or scrambled eggs and fruit

Greek Yogurt, chia seeds, oatmeal and fruit

Spinach salad with salmon and brown rice

Turkey sandwich on brown bread and side of raw veggies

Whole grain pasta with lean ground beef and veggies added into the tomato sauce

2-3 hours before

This may be a smaller meal or snack. Keep that serving of carbohydrate, but have a smaller serving of a protein-rich food that is also lower in fat.


Slice toast or half a bagel with peanut butter and banana

Greek Yogurt and fruit

Low fat cheese, crackers and grapes

Tuna sandwich and fruit

Wrap with hummus and turkey

1-2 hour before

Have a snack at this point, but the major component of this food will be a carbohydrate that is low in fibre. Protein and fat in this snack will be minimal.


Bowl of cereal and milk

Instant package of oatmeal

Plain yogurt (not Greek) and fruit

Granola bar

Crackers and low fat cheese

<1 hour before

At this point it is getting pretty close to your workout, so you want something that is really easy to digest. It should be all quick-digesting carbohydrates.


Sips of sports drink

Apple sauce without added sugar

Dried fruit without added sugar, like dates or raisins


A few examples in real life:

Early morning workout

When you wake up at 5am to train for 5:30am , you’re not going to wake up at 1am to have a full meal. Instead, to prevent low blood sugar, try sipping sports drink, or having half a banana or apple sauce which can be easier on your stomach.

apple sauce

You can also try having a snack just before bed that contains carbohydrates like and some protein, like cottage cheese and fruit, whole wheat wrap with peanut butter and banana or hummus and pita bread.

Evening workout

When you workout around your typical dinner time, or head straight for the gym after work, a full dinner just before is not the best. However, your last meal (lunch) may have been 5 hours ago. Mid-afternoon, aim to have a balanced snack from the 2-3 hours before.

Final Thoughts

What you eat just before is important, but plan out your day leading up to evening workouts to avoid lower energy and overeating close to the workout. Hydration is also very important too, so be sure to sip on fluids throughout the day and especially leading up to a workout. For ideas on what to be eating after your workout to help recover and refuel, check out my guide to Recovery Nutrition.

Written by: Andrea Docherty, RD

Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist

Windsor, Ontario

Weight Loss Advice for Athletes: 10 Practical Tips

As an athlete, the decision to lose weight can be a number of reasons. Reducing body fat may positively impact your performance by improving your power to weight ratio, agility, speed and/or endurance, and it may be necessary to reach a certain weight class. Your health is number one and any fat loss goals you have should not sacrifice health and performance. The first step is to determine what amount of weight loss is realistic for you.


 Balancing heavy training and food intake can be challenge, and even more so when trying to create a deficit for fat loss without having negative consequences on performance or eating less than needed to support your normal metabolic functions. However, it is possible when you avoid the next quick fix and adopt strategies you can maintain long term. As an athlete, energy expenditure is typically already high, so modest changes to your diet will help with changing your weight. While there is no one specific diet plan to follow for weight loss, working with a Sports Dietitian like myself can take into consideration the many factors that makes you unique and put together an individualized plan and approach. I do have some tips that just about anyone can incorporate no matter what way of eating you choose to follow.

Before we get into those tips, athletes have a few important factors to consider when losing weight:

The Speed of Weight Loss

Losing weight too quickly can mean that weight lost is not fat and instead is water, glycogen and/or possibly muscle mass – 3 things as an athlete you don’t want to be losing!

Cutting carbohydrates heavily or not strategizing when they are consumed can result in glycogen (stored carbohydrates in the muscle and liver) depletion. For every gram of glycogen we store, 3g of water is stored along with it. That is why the first week of a low carb diet you can lose several pounds, but really it is a loss of glycogen and water.

Give yourself plenty of time to reach your goals. If you’re trying to make a weight class, minimize large fluctuations between the seasons and don’t wait until too close to competition in order to avoid making drastic changes in a short period of time. Losing weight modestly at about 1-2 lb/ week, without cutting calories to much or unnecessarily eliminating food groups can help preserve muscle.

The Timing of Weight Loss

During the regular season or during competition is not a good time for athletes to be attempting weight loss as this can hinder performance. The off-season or pre-season is the time when you can make changes to your weight.

Maintaining Performance and Training Adaptations

During periods of weight loss, you still want to ensure you have enough energy to train, recover and adapt to training. Fuel up properly with carbohydrates so that you don’t compromise the quality of your training sessions (which in turn can impact your weight loss goals if your not working as hard). Recover after training with carbohydrates and protein to make sure you still get the nutrients needed to adapt to training. In my post about about Recovery Nutrition has guidelines you can still follow when trying to manage your weight.

How Realistic is the Goal?

In addition to point #1 where you want to avoid setting high weight loss goals with short deadlines, other factors like your current body composition, body weight history, guidelines for your sport and whether it will help your performance are a few things to consider before setting a target weight. A professional can help assess and determine these things for you.

So, what should you do to create a calorie deficit that will not lead to some of the negative effects above? Avoid severe calorie restriction and quick fixes because in the end they won’t be sustainable.

 Here are 10 tips – no calorie counting or cutting out food groups required:

  1. Eat enough protein to preserve muscle mass and promote satiety. In addition to including strength training to help preserve muscle mass, protein intake can help as well. Total protein needs will be increased during weight loss, but the frequency at which it is consumed is just as important. The key here is getting a serving of protein every 3-4 hours, so aim for 3 meals a days and 2-3 snacks in between.

Choose protein-rich foods to include at meals and snacks like: plain Greek yogurt,      cottage cheese, chicken, fish, lean meats, raw, mixed nuts.

For meals, aim for about 20-30g/meal (depending on your body size) and 10-20g/snacks (also dependent on body size).


2. Balance Snacks with Protein and Carbohydrate. As mentioned above, have a protein at all snacks, but make sure to have a bit of carbohydrate to help provide energy and keep blood sugar stable. Pair the protein with a fruit or vegetable (they contain carbohydrates) most often to provide lots of nutrients and fibre without too many added calories. The purpose of the snacks is to help you meet nutrient needs, keep energy levels up between meals, and to avoid long periods of time without eating.

Examples of balanced snacks: Cottage cheese mixed with diced pineapple or red peppers; small handful raw nuts and an orange; mixed raw vegetables and hardboiled eggs, edamame and carrot sticks.

3. Choose whole, unprocessed foods more often. Think about some of the foods you consume and if they are processed or packaged, replace them with something either minimally-processed or in its natural form.

For example, if you typically eat cereal as your starch at breakfast, switch to oatmeal or steel cut oats. If you typically have bread or pasta as carbohydrate of choice at meals, try switching that to potatoes, brown rice, and quinoa or other whole grains sometimes. Instead of always having peanut butter, have raw nuts in their whole form. Portion sizes are still important for whole foods, but since these foods are less processed, our body metabolizes them differently, they will be more satisfying and provide more nutrients.

4. Minimize foods or drinks high in energy but low on nutrients. These include sweets, sugar or cream in coffee, cakes, pop, juice, fried foods, creamy salad dressings and too many condiments and sauces.

5. Avoid eating out of boredom and eating while distracted as this can lead to overeating or eating to quickly (which can also lead to overeating). Some strategies to help you slow down & portion size are: Put down your phone and turn off the TV when eating; put down your fork after taking a bite and only pick it up once you have finished chewing and swallowed the food; portion out food instead of eating directly from the packages and choose smaller plates.


Example of what not to do!

6. Prioritize healthy fats. When you want to lose fat, that doesn’t mean you should eat fat-free. You still need fat to stay healthy and absorb nutrients. Instead, cut back on the saturated and trans fats from foods like processed meats (sausage, deli meats, hot dogs, bacon) and get a moderate amount of healthy, unsaturated fats from avocado, salmon and other omega 3 rich fish, olive oil, raw nuts and seeds chia and ground flax seeds.

7. Aim for variety. You can still eat flavourful foods and lose weight without constantly eating plain broccoli, chicken and brown rice. If simplicity works for you, that’s fine too, but at least try to rotate between several different meals and snacks or else you may lack some nutrients. On the other hand, boredom sometimes prevents people from sticking to healthy eating. Make it a habit to switch up the produce you buy week to week or try at least one new healthy recipe.

8. Avoid skipping meals and snacks during the day as this can lead to increased hunger and overeating in the evening as well as lack of energy for evening workouts. You don’t need to cut off your eating by a certain time at night, but if most of your calories are consumed in the evening, you may be more likely to store fat. Plan ahead and take the time to pack food with you if you are out all day.

9. Make double the dinner for leftovers at lunch or pack your meals the night before so you can avoid fast food and take out.

10. Chop all veggies ahead of time so that they are ready to eat, easily visible in the fridge and already prepared. This way, its just as convenient to reach for some veggies to snack on than it is to grab something less nutritious. As another bonus, dinner is partly prepped for things like salads, roasted vegetables or stirfrys when everything is washed and chopped.

While this may seem like a lot to change, start by choosing 1 or 2 things that you can start to do. If you need more guidance, contact me and I can provide individual nutrition coaching and meal planning support to help you reach your goals.

Looking for more articles like this? Check out:

Calorie Counting Sucks: 10 Things to Try Instead to Help You Lose Weight and Keep It Off

How to Build High Performance Meals Tailored to Your Training Levels

5 Tips To Stay Motivated During Your Weight Loss Journey

Written by: Andrea Docherty, RD

Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist

Windsor, Ontario

Post Exercise Nutrition Guide to Refuel and Recover

Post Exercise Nutrition Guide to Refuel and Recover

Getting the right nutrients after a long, strenuous workout is crucial for athletes so that you can still perform and train hard during your next workout, repair and grow muscle and prevent illness. Protein alone won’t do all that though! Carbohydrates and healthy fats, along with micronutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals shouldn’t be overlooked. These micronutrients help with delivering oxygen to your muscles, recovering from the oxidative stress that occurs with exercise, allow you to properly metabolize carbs, protein and fat and keep you healthy. How can you make sure your getting them in your diet? Prioritize nutritious, whole foods first before supplements. I’ll give you some simple ideas later in the article.

heart F&amp;V

Getting the right nutrients after a long, strenuous workout is crucial for athletes so that you can still perform and train hard during your next workout, repair and grow muscle and prevent illness. Protein alone won’t do all that though! Carbohydrates and healthy fats, along with micronutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals shouldn’t be overlooked. These micronutrients help with delivering oxygen to your muscles, recovering from the oxidative stress that occurs with exercise, allow you to properly metabolize carbs, protein and fat and keep you healthy. How can you make sure your getting them in your diet? Prioritize nutritious, whole foods first before supplements. I’ll give you some simple ideas later in the article.

After an intense workout, you have used up some (or all) of your glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and will want to replenish this in time for your next workout. Think of it like gas in a tank that you want to fill up after a long car ride. If your next workout is less than 24 hours away, eating carbohydrates as soon as possible after the workout will help begin to replenish stores. In failing to do so, you may be fatigue earlier and be less focused and alert. Consuming frequent meals and snacks during the day containing carbohydrates as well will help refuel.

Fluids and Electrolytes to Rehydrate

Fluid and sweat loses can vary between individuals. You can monitor the colour of your urine to determine whether you are hydrated or not – it should be clear or a pale yellow. Weight lost during exercise is related to sweat loss, so for every 1kg lost, you need to drink 1-1.5 L of water. Having salty foods or having a sports drink can help to replace the sodium loses.


Protein for Muscle Growth and Repair

During exercise, muscle damage and breakdown occurs. To switch this process off (because it will continue even when you stop exercing) and start muscle repair and growth, consuming protein (especially complete sources of protein with the essential, branched chain amino acid leucine), is needed.

Micronutrients for Immune Function

The muscle damage during exercise leads to inflammation. You may have impaired immune function (and be more likely to get sick) if you continually skip recovery nutrition. Antioxidants from whole fruits and vegetables are good choices to include. Tart cherry juice may help with reducing muscle soreness. Compounds in turmeric and fresh ginger can also be helpful for minimizing inflammation. You could add ginger to a smoothie or use these in cooking during other parts of the day.


Fresh ginger

While fluids, carbohydrates, protein and antioxidants are important for everyone after exercise, what, when and how much to consume varies from person to person.

What determines when and how much?

The time until your next training session and how intensely you worked out

Athletes often train twice a day, so with a short period of time between workouts, a snack or meal ASAP post workout is needed so you begin the recovery process and help ensure you are refueled and repaired for your next workout. Your next meal may be soon after and should till contain the components listed above.

But if your next workout isn’t until the next day, or it was an easier workout and you have at least 24 hour to recover, you can get all the nutrients you need from your regular meals and snacks, given that they are well balanced. But, aim to have that next meal within 60-90 minutes.

Individual Factors

The number of grams of protein and carbohydrates to consume after a workout to recover adequately can be determined by a dietitian based on your body weight, intensity of the exercise, type of sport, level of conditioning, the environment, and your overall nutrition needs and goals.

While it may seem convenient to throw a packaged protein bar or scoop of whey protein into your gym bag for after your workout, whole foods are even better. Here are some balanced examples you can take with you.

Trail Mix – one that contains a variety of nuts and seeds (protein) and dried fruit and pretzels (carbohydrates, salt). Your best bet is to make your own using raw nuts to minimize the amount of fat.

Greek yogurt or cottage cheese and berries, cherries or pineapple – Add Greek yogurt or cottage to a Tupperware container and add frozen fruit. The frozen fruit will help to keep everything cold while you workout.

Whole Wheat pita bread and small can of tuna and side of raw veggies– You can make the wrap after your workout and no fridge is required.

Carton of chocolate milk and banana

Cheese Strings and Mandarin Oranges and crackers

Bagel or bread with peanut butter and banana

Cold pasta salad with chicken breast, chopped veggies and a vinaigrette

cold pasta salad

Drink plenty of water as well to rehydrate.

Tip: Chocolate milk and smoothies are great if you have little appetite post workout but need something ASAP

What’s the deal with chocolate milk?

Chocolate milk is part of a good recovery snack because it follows the recommended ratio of about 4:1 (carbohydrates: protein), contains simple sugars (quick absorbing carbs), is a fluid so it promotes rehydration as well, and contains electrolyes and many other vitamins and minerals.

Keep in mind:

Recovery doesn’t only happen right after a workout. What and when you eat during other meals and snacks, as well as getting enough sleep and adequate rest are other important factor in reaching your goals and recovering from exercise. To continue to improve, train hard and get stronger, don’t skip out on recovery!

Contact me to figure out what and how much to eat post workout (and the rest of the day) to help you meet your training, body composition and other health related goals.

Want to know what to eat before a workout? Check out: Pre-Exercise Nutrition Guide

Written by: Andrea Docherty, RD

Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist

Windsor, Ontario