You’re serious about looking and feeling great. You’re determined to make your workouts count. You load up a carefully curated playlist, fight your busy schedule to get to the gym, and resist every urge to skip those one or two exercises you never seem to find comfortable. Well done! But an optimal workout doesn’t end there.
Knowing when and how to fuel your body to meet your fitness goals is the most important thing you can do for your workouts beyond showing up at the gym. With the help of nutrition experts, we created a list of five rules you should follow to exponentially improve your results.
Whether we want to bulk up or slim down in the gym, looking leaner is a nearly universal goal. According to holistic health coach Seth Santoro, the best strategy for lowering body-fat percentage is to work out soon after waking up. “Hit the gym and do some treadmill sprints on an empty stomach to burn fat,” he says. “Your body is already in a calorie deficit, and it will ignite your body’s fat-burning ability.” Glycogen levels are depleted during sleep, so your body will utilize body fat as an energy source.
…But Fuel Your Muscles to Give Them a Lift
Although doing cardio in a fasted state is a good plan for burning fat and improving insulin sensitivity, you should pre-fuel before a weight workout. While you can huff along on a treadmill depleted, your body needs energy to get through a more intense session. Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN recommends eating 30 grams of carbohydrates before a workout. That’s about the amount you’d find in a large banana. “Without carbs, you’ll get tired in the middle of your workout, and it won’t be as effective,” she says.
For a workout requiring lots of energy, Kaufman suggests eating whole-grain pancakes three to four hours before your workout, and bananas, a fruit smoothie, or oats half an hour beforehand. Santoro recommends protein for pre-workout fueling. “Because you’ll only have 30 to 60 minutes to digest your food, drink a fast-acting protein like whey isolate that’s easily absorbed into your body,” he says, adding that egg whites are a good substitute.