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5 energizing foods to fuel your workout

Get the most out of your workout with these expert tips for maximizing athletic performance

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fitness woman gym

Make nutrition a priority

Each spring, aspiring athletes seek figure-flattering workout wear to cover winter-weary bodies. Athletic gear is purchased and primed. Tires are pumped, wheels trued and iPods loaded with favourite tunes. Often overlooked is the major ingredient in any training regimen-a balanced nutrition plan. World Masters Champion cross-country skier Sheila Kealey recommends making proper eating a priority. “If you are going out for a bike ride you pump up your tires and put on your helmet. I think bringing something to eat and drink is just as important as getting ready to go out for your ride,” says Kealey, a research associate in nutritional epidemiology with the University of California.

Keep reading to find what can you do to fuel your fitness, and to check out the five energizing foods Kealey recommends.  >

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fruits and veggies

1. Build a solid nutritional base

To tackle summer triathlons and duathlons Kealey relies on a solid nutritional base supplemented with high energy snacks. Her diet includes unprocessed foods and lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. Having the right foods on hand when you need them takes careful planning. “You are not going to be eating well if you don’t have good stuff in the fridge and good foods in your cupboard,” says Kealey.

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woman eating yogurt and fruit

2. Consume carbs

What you eat before working out depends on the activity and what works best for you. Kealey recommends eating at least in the two hours before a workout in order to ensure you’ll have enough energy. “What you eat should be carb rich, something that you know digests well, such as a peanut butter and banana sandwich, yogurt with fruit or an energy bar and water.” Within the hour before a workout Kealey recommends a sports drink or energy chews (much like gummy bears) that digest well.

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cardio workout fitness

3. Maintain energy

What you eat during your workout depends on the length of time you spend training. “If you are only going to do a 30-minute run you probably don’t need to eat or drink anything. When you are getting up to an hour you should have something to drink or a little bit to eat like an energy chew,” says Kealey. For workouts lasting more than two hours, Kealey recommends eating something solid to stave off hunger. Refueling after exercise is also really important and is something that a lot of people forget about. Kealey advises that, “After exercise it’s really important to have something to drink to hydrate,” says Kealey, recommending, “a little bit of protein for muscle repair and carbs to replenish your glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates).” 

Click through for five of Kealey’s all-time favourite energizing snacks. >

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energy bar food protein

Foods to fuel your workout

Try this: Homemade cookies
Kealey has a favourite low-fat oatmeal cookie recipe and adds dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts and seeds. She keeps the cookies on hand for longer, low-intensity outings (like cycling, hiking) or after a workout. They are rich in carbohydrates, and have all the important nutrients from the oats, as well as healthy fats from the nuts and seeds. Kealey avoids eating these during higher intensity workouts, like intervals, since they don’t digest as well as other foods.

Try this: Energy bars

Energy bars are a convenient source of fuel and can be carried anywhere. In her Nutrition Digest Volume 17, Kealey suggests choosing bars high in carbohydrates (about 70% or more of calories from carbs), drinking enough water and avoiding bars with trans fats. For post-workout recovery, Kealey advises eating bars with more protein (about 8g or more per bar) to help maintain blood sugar levels. She prefers Clif Bars and says that they are great tasting, quite convenient (especially when she runs out of her own homemade cookies), rich in carbohydrates and tend to digest well.
Browse our best healthy energy bar recipes to find your favourite!

Try this: Energy chews
Energy chews are a great option before a workout or race, or during a more intense training session since they are easy on the stomach, says Kealey. She uses Clif Shot Bloks because “the small portion size of these chewable blocks is perfect, they’re easy to digest, and the simple sugars can provide the quick energy that muscles need.”

Try this: Fruit with Greek yogurt
Fruit with Greek yogurt is one of Kealey’s favourite post-workout snacks. “It’s great-tasting, and full of whole nutrition. The combination is rich in carbohydrates, full of nutrients and natural disease-fighting compounds from the fruit, and has a good amount of protein and calcium from the Greek yogurt,” says Kealey. Recent studies show that some fruit, like cherries, might have anti-inflammatory benefits. These are good anytime, but especially after exercise.

Try this: Chocolate milk
Post-workout Kealey drinks chocolate milk to replenish lost fluids and replace carbohydrates that help restock glycogen stores. Milk also has protein to aid muscle repair. And most importantly, Kealey really likes the taste.

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7 top fitness foods
9 superfoods to rev up your workout