We all know that what you eat impacts the hard work you do in the gym. But how important is it really to fuel your workout goals with food? Turns out, it’s pretty crucial. Even though carbo-loading may be a good thing, it’s hard to know what and when exactly you should be eating to prep for a big sweat session. If you have zero idea what to eat for the best workout ever, we’re here for you. With the help of sports dietitian Tara Collingwood, we’ve identified a bunch of different foods for the most common workout goals that’ll help you hit that next fitness milestone faster and stronger.

Workout Goal: Build strength and muscle

1. Lean meats: Meals that incorporate foods like chicken breast, fish and lean beef are ideal for building up key muscle groups and allowing you to PR on the reg. You’ll also get the best results if you eat smaller, protein-rich meals throughout the day, not just a big dinner, according to Tara. “I am a big fan of eating small amounts frequently throughout the day. If you limit portions to a healthy size at meals and have snacks regularly in order to spread calories out, it’ll boost your metabolism and prevent your body from going into starvation mode,” she says. It might sound obvious, but not having enough nutrients and fuel means not being able to make strength gains, so it’s super important to eat enough food an adequate number of times per day.

Fit woman in kitchen making a smoothie

2. Low-fat dairy: Vegetarian? No prob. You can totally substitute eggs and low-fat dairy products like Greek yogurt for the meaty and fishy stuff. A little froyo won’t hurt either.

3. High-quality carbs: “Foods like quinoa, oats and whole wheat products provide energy for your workout and help spare the protein you’re consuming to build muscle,” says Tara. If you needed a reason to eat that quinoa bowl or add some whole wheat toast to your morning omelette, you’ve got it. Carbs are your friend!

Workout Goal: Increase endurance

4. Complex carbs: When you’re going to be exercising for a longer period of time, like when you’re training for a marathon, your body needs nutrients that it can use over time to keep you going through the duration of the workout. Tara recommends complex carbs like whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables to help you stay energized over the course of your sweat sesh. These complex carbs are the fuel for our energy stores, AKA glycogen. “When doing endurance exercise, an athlete relies on their glycogen stores for energy,” she explains. “Once glycogen levels run low, they can hit the wall and run out of energy. So it’s important to have glycogen stores as full as possible when starting endurance exercise,” she says. Hear that? Eat up before hitting the pavement!

summer berries on wooden surface

Workout Goal: Maximize fat burn

5. Monounsaturated fats: Not everyone works out to burn fat, and that’s totally cool. But if you’ve made the choice to exercise not only to improve your overall health and score those mood-boosting endorphins, but also to increase the number of calories you burn every day, how you nourish your body is extra important. Monounsaturated fats like olives, nuts, seeds and avocado are awesome because they help prevent plaque buildup in your arteries, raise your good cholesterol and lower your bad cholesterol. They’re total multitaskers.

grilled veggies

6. Foods rich in fiber, like veggies: Vegetables are really low in calories but high in fiber, so Tara recommends filling half your plate with them if you’re hoping to lower your body fat percentage. Even for those who aren’t interested in losing weight (which is 100 percent optional and a super personal choice), eating a diet rich in fiber is always a good idea.

Workout Goal: Speed up

7. Simple carbs: If you’re trying to hit your fastest-ever mile time, simple carbs like fruit and sports drinks can help you get there, says Tara. They provide an immediate hit of energy that your body absorbs quickly, allowing you to unleash your inner speed demon.


The Bottom Line

When it comes down to it, the key to fueling your workout is being conscious of what you’re putting into your body when you want it to perform. “There’s no one food (or group of foods) that will magically create muscle, burn fat or build endurance,” Tara reminds us. “It’s a mix of nutrients and balance of foods eaten at the right times and in combination with the time you spend working out that helps you accomplish your goals.” Basically, there’s no magic food formula you can adhere to that will suddenly turn you into a super-athlete overnight, but being strategic about what you eat and when can help you accomplish your #fitnessgoals ASAP and feel amazing while doing it.

How do you fuel your workouts? Do you notice that what you eat impacts your performance? Let us know @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)