A woman drinks from a water bottle as she gets ready to exercise.

Eat Like an Athlete: Improving Performance Through Diet

Exercising can be a great way to relieve stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle, but running low on energy in the middle of a workout or getting nauseous halfway through can hinder your progress. However, eating the right foods and staying hydrated can help you go further than ever before. Check out our guide to fueling — and feeling — like an athlete. 

Hydrate Like a Pro

Losing even a bit of water when you’re exercising can diminish your performance, so imagine how tough a workout would be if you went into it dehydrated! That’s why it’s important to stay hydrated all day. Plus, drinking water routinely will make it less likely that you guzzle water during your workout and end up with an upset stomach. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids during and after exercise to replenish the stores of water you lost through sweating and exhaling. 

You might also wonder what you should drink. For most athletes, water should suffice. However, if your workout is particularly intense or lasts longer than an hour, consider opting for a beverage with electrolytes to keep you going. 

Understanding Macronutrients and Their Effects on the Body

There are three types of macronutrients — carbohydrates, proteins, and fats — and each plays a specific role in your body. Carbohydrates produce immediate energy and also store energy as glycogen in the muscles and liver; proteins build muscle and other tissues; and fats help your body absorb the nutrients you eat. Using this knowledge, you can optimize your performance by eating the right foods at the right times.

Pre-Workout Snacks to Get You Moving 

The main goal of a pre-workout snack is to increase energy levels, and carbohydrates are the macronutrients that can help you do that. There are two main types of carbs: simple and complex. Simple carbs break down quickly, while complex carbs take longer and are more likely to turn into glycogen stores. Opt for a complex carb with a little bit of protein before your workout. Here are some of our favorite combinations: 

  • An apple with nut butter
  • An egg with whole-grain toast
  • A smoothie containing protein powder, banana, and spinach

Try to have your snack anywhere between 1 and 3 hours before your workout. Digesting food while exercising can often lead to an upset stomach. Feel free to experiment with different time ranges, as digestion times vary by individual and the size of the meal. 

Post-Workout Snacks to Help You Recover

Your muscle tissue tends to break down during exercise, so the optimal macronutrient to include in your post-workout snack is protein. Protein provides amino acids, the building blocks of new muscle. Additionally, include some carbs to help restore glycogen levels. Eat within 45 minutes of exercising, as your body is most efficient at creating glycogen during this time. Some of our favorite post-workout snacks include: 

If you have additional questions about developing the right diet to help you improve your game, schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician or orthopedic physician. They can help you create a plan to help you eat healthily and effectively for however you choose to be active. For advanced services, learn more about our performance and sports medicine program.

Are you looking for more advice on improving your mileage? Sign up for the CHI St. Luke’s Health Run Club to gain access to free training materials!

Sources: 
Healthline | 4 Ways to Fuel Your Body Like a Pro Athlete
Self | What to Eat Before and After a Workout, According to a Registered Dietitian
Healthline | Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout
ACSM | Industry Presented Blog: What to Eat Before and After a Workout
Healthline | Post-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After a Workout
VeryWell Fit | Why Carbohydrates Are Important for Exercise