Do you like to switch up your exercise routine throughout the week? If so, you may wonder whether or not you should adjust your food and supplement game in accordance with whatever training modality you’ve got on the docket for the day.
Turns out, you probably don’t need to get too technical about how you fuel on different training days (looking at calorie and macronutrient intake over an entire week is just as effective for reaching fitness goals), but there are some important rules of thumb worth keeping in mind. Here, experts lay out a few guidelines and offer tips to help you get the most out of each and every training day.
5 Food and Supplement Rules To Follow on Training Days
The main determinants of your nutrient intake on training days should be a mix of your overall goals, current level of fitness, and personal needs.
1. If You’re Newer to Exercise: Have a pre-workout snack
No doubt, a pre-workout bite replete with simple carbs and a little bit of protein can benefit anyone doing moderate- to high-intensity exercise. But it’s especially important for people who are new(er) to exercise. “If your body is not used to having an increased heart rate or exerting energy, you’re more likely to get dizzy or lightheaded,” explains dietitian and strength coach Albert Matheny, R.D., C.S.C.S., COO of ARENA and co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab in New York City. Fuel your body with a banana and oatmeal, toast with jelly, or Greek yogurt with berries to help stabilize your blood sugar levels, and avoid those symptoms, he says.
And, regardless of your training age, if you experience weakness, fatigue, or dizziness during exercise, you’re probably not eating or drinking enough before your workout, says Paul Kriegler R.D., a dietitian with Life Time Fitness. “These are signs of inadequate hydration, low energy availability, or low electrolyte status,” he says. Try eating and drinking (more on hydration in a sec) a smidge more before hitting the treadmill, trail, or mat. If these symptoms persist, talk to your healthcare provider; they could be a sign of an underlying issue.
2. If you’re going to Break a Big sweat: Add an electrolyte supplement
Electrolytes—which include sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium—are minerals that help the body execute many vital functions. One of these functions is holding onto water. “Electrolytes help regulate fluid balance in the body,” Matheny explains. Low electrolyte levels can cause a variety of symptoms, such as muscle weakness, dry mouth, irregular heart rate, and difficulty breathing, none of which are ideal if you’re trying to get a sound workout in.
Since sweat contains electrolytes, you risk electrolyte imbalance anytime you sweat a lot, says registered dietitian and exercise physiologist Dr. Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., co-owner of Mohr Results. “If you’re exercising in a hot and humid environment, you may need to replace the electrolytes lost in your sweat with an electrolyte supplement,” he says. Electrolyte supplementation may also be beneficial for individuals who exercise intensely and sweat buckets as a result.
While this number may fluctuate based on the weather and individual body chemistry, people lose about 1,200 milligrams of sodium in sweat per hour, says Kriegler. “You want to replenish 30 to 50 percent of sodium losses, as well as the other major electrolytes (potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium),” he says. An electrolyte mix like Liquid IV or BPN Electrolytes (which both contain 500 milligrams of sodium per serving) should do the trick.
Just avoid the temptation to double up: If you try to take in too high of a concentration of electrolytes, you could cause something called osmotic diarrhea. “Osmotic diarrhea happens when the body dilutes the contents in your stomach and small intestine by pulling water out of circulation and into the gut,” Mohr explains. This rapid fluid shift will cause you to immediately expel all the electrolytes and fluids in your system, he explains. Talk about an interference!
If you’re exercising hard for a long time: Consider a mid-workout carb
Usually, your body uses stored carbohydrates (known as glycogen) to keep you energized all workout long. But by 60 to 75 minutes into training your body has used up all those glycogen stores, says Matheny. So, if you’re exercising at a moderate to high intensity for longer than that, you might consider a mid-workout snack, specifically a quick digesting, simple carbohydrate. “You want to eat something the body can break down and use for energy very quickly,” he explains.
The specific carbohydrate you consume depends on your preferences, as well as on what your digestive system can tolerate. Some individuals do well noshing on dried fruit, sucking down a baby food pouch, or eating a banana, says Matheny. Others find that the fiber content in these quick carbs upsets their stomachs. If you’re in the latter category, Mohr suggests looking into a carbohydrate drink. Often sold as intra-workout carbs, there are a number of drink mix-ins—like Karbolyn Fuel Performance Carb—that are formulated to give you just what you need to go another hour, which is 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates.
“A carbohydrate drink could also be useful for individuals who exercise early in the morning, as well as for those who exercise late in the afternoon and haven’t eaten since lunch,” Mohr adds.
If You’re not Eating Enough protein: Drink Up
The macronutrient responsible for building and repairing your body’s tissues, protein plays an essential role in muscle recovery and growth. If you do not consume enough protein, you slow down how long it takes you to recover from training and ultimately rob yourself of reaping the maximal benefits of the exercise routines, says Matheny. And that stands regardless of the type of workouts that routine entails.
“There’s a misconception that people with strength goals are the only people who need to prioritize protein intake,” says Matheny. “But actually people need to consume protein whether they want to put on muscle mass, get faster, or improve their cardiovascular health,” he says.
Indeed one 2022 review published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming protein after exercise can accelerate recovery after strength training. Meanwhile, a second study published in Nutrients found that protein consumption following a marathon reduces a runner’s overall muscle soreness.
In general, the basic recommendation is to consume about 20 grams of protein after exercise, says Matheny. However, the total amount of protein an individual should consume throughout the day varies based on their fitness goals, current and goal body weight, activity level, and overall health. As a baseline, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming between 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. (Think 80 to 128 grams for someone that weighs 160 pounds.) That said, if you’re strength training and specifically looking to put on muscle mass, research suggests consuming up to one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. (That’s 160 grams for that same person.)
Read More: 5 Health Benefits Of A High-Protein Diet
If you have a hard time consuming enough protein in your daily diet, Matheny suggests adding a protein powder into your rotation. Most protein powders contain 20 to 30 grams of protein per serving, which can go a long way in getting you to your daily intake goals. Front-loading your protein intake by having a hearty breakfast (think eggs with turkey sausage, bacon, or cold cuts) can also help, he suggests.
No matter what: Drink water Throughout the day
Just about everyone could benefit from drinking more water, since a whopping 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated. “It’s actually really difficult to drink too much water,” says Matheny. “So, in general, if an individual is exercising they probably need to up their water intake.”
How much water should you be consuming, exactly? 48 to 64 ounces per day, plus an additional seven to 10 ounces per every 10 to 20 minutes of exercise, according to the American Council on Exercise. “If it’s hot and humid or you’re a heavy sweater, consider sipping on even more than that,” Mohr suggests. Again, in these instances, you might also want to add electrolytes to your bottle to help you hold onto that H2O.