The Best Foods To Fuel Your Workout

The Best Foods To Fuel Your Workout

Are raw energy balls and protein shakes the ultimate power fuel? Or can nothing beat a banana and a bottle of water? The advice surrounding nutrition and exercise can often be overwhelming, confusing or even conflicting. We asked Dr Warren Bradley for his pointers on which foods to choose for your workout, when is best to eat them and the importance of calorie counting if your ultimate goal is weight loss.

When it comes to preparing for, or refuelling after a workout, the temptation is often to grab a quick smoothie or energy bar on the fly. But are we missing a trick? Performance nutritionist Dr Warren Bradley has worked with Olympians, international rugby players and premiership footballers to help optimise their athletic performances through their diets. Now he shares his tips on how best to fuel your own fitness regime. 

When To Eat Before A Workout

“This is complex as digestion rates may vary significantly between individuals, alongside the impact of a food’s glycaemic index (GI) on the rate of digestion. For high GI foods – such as white pasta, rice, bread and high-sugar foods – allow approximately 30-90 minutes to digest, quicker still if in liquid or gel form. For lower GI – wholemeal pasta, rice, breads, fibre rich vegetables – allow approximately 90-180+ minutes to digest.”

Working Out On An Empty Stomach

“There is no rule that states you must eat X within Y time before exercise, although exercise type and training goals must be considered. Your body has an abundance of energy reserves in the form of fat stores, muscle and liver glycogen (stored form of carbohydrate). Furthermore, studies have regularly shown that training in a depleted state can lead to specific training adaptations.”

What To Eat For Instant Energy

“High glycaemic index carbohydrates are rapidly broken down into sugar and transferred to the blood for use as energy (blood sugar). For instant energy, think about foods like raisins, watermelon, fig rolls, fruit juice, white rice/pasta/breads, potatoes, fruit scones and black grapes.”

What To Eat To Build And Repair Muscles

“Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are combined in various ways to carry out a number of bodily functions, including muscle repair and hormone production. Examples of complete proteins – foods containing all of the essential amino acids or EAA’s – include milk, eggs, yoghurt (high protein like SKYR or quark), chicken, beef, fish, tofu, quinoa.

Building muscle follows the same principles as muscle repair and requires the same fundamental high-protein foods. For strength and power, it may be pertinent to concentrate on creatine-rich foods such as beef or chicken.”

How To Carb Load For Endurance Sports

“In preparation for an endurance event, you must increase your energy stores (glycogen stored in the muscle and liver) by ‘loading’ with carbohydrates for approximately 36 hours prior to the event. Fruits, pasta, potatoes, grains and breads are all high-carbohydrate foods that may be included. During the event, consuming high glycaemic index carbs regularly, will keep your blood sugar topped up with energy. Think about foods that are easy to transport and easy to eat on the go like fruit juice, raisins, fig rolls and black grapes, as well as sports drinks and gels.”

Foods To Reduce Stiffness In Joints

“Gelatine is a great source of collagen which is well-researched to support joints for both pain and stiffness, in the presence of Vitamin C. Bone broths and chicken stock are rich in gelatine and provide a great homemade ‘joint support’, so long as you supplement with foods such as broccoli, sprouts, peppers, leafy greens, tomatoes or citrus fruits to get your dose of Vitamin C. A homemade stew with a side of broccoli, sprouts and leafy greens could be just what the doctor ordered.”

Fat-Burning Foods

“Spices such as turmeric, chillies, pepper, cinnamon and cumin may increase your resting metabolic rate, but no food can specifically ‘burn fat’. The only thing that works for losing body fat? A calorie deficit – consuming less calories than you burn.”

The Best Drinks To Replace Electrolytes

“Research has shown [chocolate] milk as one of the best rehydration drinks, containing sugars and electrolytes to aid hydration. For a homemade lower calorie option, mix 1/4 tsp of salt (sodium is an electrolyte) with 1 tsp sugar or honey in 200-300ml of water. Then flavour with a dash of fruit juice or low-sugar cordial. Voila – your very own isotonic drink.”

Anti-Inflammatory Foods For Recovery

“To reap the benefits of exercise, you must allow recovery and avoid chronic inflammation. Eating oily fish such as salmon or mackerel three or four times a week can be a great way to consume healthy fats (Omegas 3 & 6) with anti-inflammatory properties.”

How Soon To Eat After Working Out

“As a general rule of thumb, eating food every three to four hours is a good way to ensure a constant supply of amino acids to the muscle, carbohydrates for energy (and recovery), and vitamins & minerals for general health. This means you may not need to inhale a protein shake as soon as you finish your workout if you ate within the last couple of hours – there will still be plenty of amino acids in your blood stream for recovery.”

The 80/20 Rule

“If you’ve ever used social media, it’s likely you’ve come across this seemingly arbitrary formula for losing body weight: 80% diet and 20% exercise. But what does it actually mean? The formula for weight loss is quite simple – if you consume, on average, less calories than you burn, you will lose weight.

The healthiest and most sustainable way to achieve this is through a combination of exercise and dietary manipulation to create a calorie deficit. To lose 1lb of fat requires around a 3500kcal deficit, or a 500kcal deficit every day for 1 week, equating to approximately 1 hour running on a treadmill every single day – an unrealistic challenge for most. Reducing consumption of high calorie processed foods and filling up on satiating fruits, vegetables and proteins, is a simple way to reduce your calorie intake and considerably easier than exercise alone in creating a calorie deficit.”


Dr Warren’s DIY Post-Exercise Meal Builder:


Protein source. This could be milk (smoothie), chicken, white fish, eggs, turkey, tofu, beans or quinoa. 



Vitamin & mineral source. This could be a mixed salad, mixed vegetables, berries or fruits.



Healthy fat source. Examples include avocado, nuts, flax, hemp, chia or linseed.



Spices & herbs. You might like to include turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon or chilli flakes.



Water. Aim to rehydrate with 1 litre of water per 1kg of body mass lost during exercise.


Dr Warren Bradley is Head of Nutrition at Goal Master Fitness

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