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What to Eat and Drink Before, During and After Exercise

If you’ve ever run out of gas during a bike ride or felt woozy in the squat rack you already know fuel matters. And it’s not a one-size-fits-all nutrition approach. Eating to perform on a 30-minute tempo session calls for something a lot different from what a two-hour run does.

In this guide, developed by OhioHealth sports nutritionist Dawn Holmes, RD, LD, you’ll discover exactly how much, what and when you should eat and drink when exercising:

Top Off Your Tank


3 to 4 hours before:

Eat a carbohydrate-rich meal to top off your fuel supplies and moderate protein for muscle recovery. Choose from among these options:

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, nonfat milk, yogurt with granola and strawberries
  • Pasta with low-fat meat sauce and garden vegetables, bread sticks, nonfat milk
  • Breakfast wrap with scrambled eggs, cheese and salsa

30 to 60 minutes before:

Go for easy-to-digest carbohydrates. Choose one of these:

  • Granola bar
  • Pretzels and banana
  • Graham crackers
  • Bagel


2 to 3 hours before:

Consume 16 to 24 ounces of fluid. Checking your urine color is a quick way to make sure you’re hydrated. It should be pale yellow.

  • Water
  • Sports drink
  • Nonfat milk
  • 100 percent fruit juice

10 to 20 minutes before:

Drink 8 ounces of water or sports drink.



Sustain Energy


Exercise longer than 60 minutes:

Consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Some ideas:

  • Sports drinks
  • Gels
  • Chews
  • Bars


Every 15 to 20 minutes:

Drink 8 ounces of water.

More than 60 minutes:

Drink 8 ounces of water or sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes.



Fuel Recovery


30 minutes after:

The first 30 minutes after a workout are essential for recovery! Choose foods or drinks rich in carbohydrates (60 to 100 grams) and protein (10 to 20 grams).

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Two string cheese sticks, whole-grain crackers, apple
  • Bagel with cheese or turkey
  • Low-fat yogurt, frozen berries and banana smoothie

2 hours after:

Repeat above every two hours (twice), or consume a meal similar to your pre-competition meal.


30 minutes after

For every pound of body weight lost during your exercise, consume 16-24 ounces of fluid. Check your urine color.

  • Chocolate milk, low-fat
  • Recovery beverage with carbohydrate, protein and electrolytes such as Gatorade 03 shake or electrolyte drink, Endurox R4, Recoverite or Ironman Restore


Looking for more post-workout options? Find out our five favorite foods for recovery.


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