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Fuel Your Workout with Purpose

By Tavierney Rogan, MS RD CSSD | Head of Nutrition at SHIFT

No matter what your health or fitness goals may be, there are a few nutrition strategies that you can implement to optimize performance during, and to enhance recovery after, your workouts. A common mistake people make is not fueling properly before and after workouts despite putting in so much physical effort to reach their goals. As a result, they miss out on an opportunity to make progress toward their health, fitness, and body composition goals. I am here to help you avoid this pitfall! As a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, I specialize in sports nutrition, and today I am sharing the most effective fueling strategies with plant-based eating in mind. 

When it comes to deciding what and when to eat and drink before (prefuel) and after (refuel) exercise, it is important to consider the intensity and duration of your workouts, your health and fitness goals, fuel timing and, of course, personal preference.


Photo courtesy of SHIFT


The primary goal of prefuel is to provide your body with the energy (via carbohydrates) and hydration it needs to perform at its best. 


Carbohydrates play a vital role in exercise performance because they are the main fuel source for moderate to high intensity workouts, such as HIIT, strength training, boot camp, cycling, or running. Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in our muscles to be used as fuel for muscular activity. Athletes often use the term “topping off glycogen,” which refers to fueling your muscles adequately before any training session or competition. This not only helps you go faster, lift heavier, and push harder to perform one more rep, but it also helps prevent your body from relying on muscle tissue as a source for energy. Our main sources of carbohydrates come from plant foods, such as fruit, grains, legumes, and sugar. 


Proper hydration promotes nutrient delivery throughout the body and keeps muscle tissue healthy and performing optimally. Being proactive with your daily hydration will also help you feel your best in your workouts and recover faster. I recommend at least half your body weight in ounces of fluids per day (Example: a 160-pound individual should target 80 oz of fluids daily). 


Your prefuel strategy should depend on several factors: 1) how much time you have before your workout 2) when you had your last meal 3) how you are feeling, and 4) what your digestive system can tolerate. Use the following guidelines below to create your optimal prefuel snack. If more than 3-4 hours have passed since your last meal, or you feel like you are running low on energy, then incorporate a prefuel snack—this makes a big difference in how you feel and perform.

1-2 Hours Prior to Workout

    • Hydration: sip on 16-24 oz of fluids throughout this time window
    • Fuel: Consume a Balanced Snack—lean protein + carbohydrate (from fruit or a complex carb) 
  • Note: while protein is not needed to fuel your workout, the added protein will slow digestion of the carbohydrate and keep you feeling satiated going into your workout 
    • Examples
      • Realm® Bold Cacao smoothie shaken with soy milk (this provides hydration, protein, and carbohydrates) 
      • Greek yogurt with granola
      • Apple with almond butter and a cheese stick  

    30-60 minutes prior to workout 

      • Hydration: sip on 8-16 oz of fluids 
      • Fuel: Slow-digesting carbs 
  • Note: Keep dietary fat low to avoid stomach upset. 
    • Examples 
      • Higher fiber fruits like an apple or a banana
      • High-quality complex carbs like a granola bar, a piece of whole grain toast, or oatmeal. 

    0-30 minutes prior to workout

    • Hydration: sip on 8-16 oz of fluids 
    • Fuel: “Quick Carbs” i.e., low fiber, low fat, easily digestible carbohydrates. 
    • Examples
      • Fruit juice or sports performance drinks
      • Endurance chews or gels
      • Some people can tolerate lower fiber fruits like grapes or pineapple 


    The primary goal of refuel is to replenish depleted nutrients (mainly carbohydrates, fluids, and electrolytes), promote muscle recovery and prevent fatigue.  


    Replacing utilized glycogen stores with carbohydrates will aid in quicker muscle recovery by blunting muscle protein breakdown and helping you feel more energized physically and mentally in the hours post-workout. 


    Adequate rehydration will support nutrient delivery to your tissues so the body can recover faster. It also prevents fatigue, soreness, headaches, etc. 


    Amino acids (building blocks of protein) synthesize muscle and metabolic proteins and provide structure to tendons and bones. We provide our bodies with adequate amino acids for these processes through dietary protein intake. Studies show muscle tissue has an increased sensitivity to protein intake post-exercise, which is why refuel nutrition is so important! While most know that protein intake after resistance training promotes muscle protein synthesis, research shows similar benefits with recovery from protein intake after aerobic exercise. Protein intake is important even when the goal is not muscle hypertrophy, as amino acids speed recovery by repairing tissues and optimizing glycogen stores. Many people assume they need to consume animal foods to provide themselves with enough protein to recover from workouts. However, with proper planning, even high-level athletes can fuel their bodies properly with plant-based eating. There are plenty of plant-based protein options, such as tofu, legumes, nuts, grains, and the protein found in Realm® smoothies. 


    Antioxidants are bioactive nutrients that slow or prevent cell damage. Workouts damage cells, which causes inflammation. Consuming vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes is also an important part of the recovery process. 


    Your refuel strategy should depend on several factors: 1) how much you have fueled already in that day 2) how challenging was your workout 3) how soon your next meal will be and 4) your personal preference/tolerance. 

    Within 2 hours of your workout

    • Hydration: sip on an extra 16 oz for every hour of sweat and continue hydrating as normal for the rest of the day. 
    • Fuel: Consume a Balanced Plate Meal—vegetables, lean protein, and a high-quality complex carbohydrate 
    • Examples  
      • Roasted broccoli and root veggies with lentil daal 
      • Salmon with mashed sweet potato and grilled asparagus 
      • Arugula salad with tofu and herb quinoa 
      • Realm® Berry Fresh Smoothie blended with frozen spinach, almond butter, and almond milk 
    • If you do not have time for a meal you can still initiate the recovery process by consuming a Balanced Snack—lean protein + carbohydrate. 
    • Examples
      • Realm® Tropical Greens smoothie with vanilla oatmilk (this provides protein, carbohydrates, hydration, and antioxidants!)
      • Whole grain toast with sliced hardboiled egg 
      • Cottage cheese with pineapple

    About Tavierney Rogan, MS RD CSSD 

    As Head of Nutrition at SHIFT, Tavierney oversees the development and delivery of Nutrition services in addition to providing Medical Nutrition Therapy and behavior change coaching. Previously, Tavierney was a sports dietitian for Northwestern’s athletic department, where she provided fueling support for the athletes. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, Tavierney has a Master’s in Nutrition from Boston University and is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD).

    Tavierney is passionate about helping people fuel their bodies to be their best, whether that be in sports performance, everyday life, or healing from illness or injury. She believes that whole food nutrition is an incredibly powerful tool in feeling great and living life to the fullest. She also understands that nutrition is extremely personal and enjoys working with individuals to find a plan that is right for them. Tavierney is an avid Chicago sports fan and spends her free time attending sporting events, going to concerts, strength training at SHIFT, and running by the lake.  

    About SHIFT


    SHIFT is a group of passionate and committed experts who believe in a more intelligent, more effective approach to delivering personalized care and helping people build health.

    Through diagnostic assessments, they identify weaknesses and opportunities within the context of your life. They uncover your values, motivations, stressors and limitations and we create an individualized plan that serves as a roadmap for where you ultimately want to go. Their medical care is the foundation of what we do; we care for you during times of sickness and health. Our coordinated care is focused on three areas: Fuel, Movement and Recovery and our experts serve to empower you to be in control and make sustainable changes within your life.

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