We all know that you can NOT out train a bad diet! Proper nutrition is critical to the success of personal training clients, athletes, group fitness participants, and for that matter, to any fitness enthusiasts’ training program. Following is a science-based review of solid and practical nutritional guidelines that is focused in three areas related to nutrient intake and its impact on performance improvement.

Key Point: “Athletes think performance starts with training, but it starts with fuel.”

Nancy Clark, MS, RD,–Sports Nutritionist

Here are the top 3 nutrition concepts that my athletes, clients and coaches are always talking about!

These include: Hydration, Nutrient Timing and Protein Intake.


FACTS: Water is a prime nutrient in any athlete’s nutritional program. During a workout, consume about 3-4 ounces of water every 15- to 20-minutes. The stomach cannot empty more than 16-ounces of fluid per hour. Thirst is an indicator of dehydration. Therefore, drink before you are thirsty. Create a “hydration habit” that follows these recommendations.

Research supports the consumption of electrolyte-and-carbohydrate drinks to improve aerobic performance and other activity lasting more than one hour. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines for optimal refueling and hydration are based on the intensity and duration of the activity being performed, as well as the weather conditions. ACSM suggests that sports drinks are beneficial when the activity exceeds one hour, is very strenuous, and/or induces excess sweat loss. Several hours before and immediately after activity, drinking water is recommended to ensure optimal hydration. In addition, some sodium should be consumed (via snack or meal) to help stimulate thirst and retain fluid. Sports drinks can provide some of these benefits, but other snack and water/fluid combinations can be more cost-efficient and equally or more effective.

During strength and power workouts lasting around an hour, water should be sufficient or a very dilute sports drink, which would be the equivalent of 50 calories of carbohydrate (12-13 grams) per 20-ounces of water, or about 20 calories of carb per 8-ounces. Use these guidelines when mixing your own powder into water and read labels when purchasing sports drinks.

Key Point: Research indicates that cool and flavored water, or diluted sports drinks, enhance fluid intake. Identify what works for, and motivates, you to hydrate!

Nutrient timing: 

Nutrient intake aligns well with nutrient timing so let’s define “timing.” Nutrient timing (when, what and why) is important for sustained performance over time, as well as to optimize training effect, recovery and well-being. Overall energy and how an athlete feels on a day-to-day basis, or during a session, is greatly influenced by what nutrients our athletes and clients eat and drink before, during and after workouts.

Nutrient Timing Before WorkoutsThe International Society of Sports Nutrition provides a position stand regarding nutrient timing, which is largely dependent upon the type of activity being performed. In general, they recommend a meal with carbohydrates more than one hour (but no later) prior to the workout. A mix of carbohydrate and protein works well. Keep the ratio 3:1 in favor of carbohydrate.

Nutrient Timing After Workouts…Generally, post-workout nutrition has three specific purposes:

  1. Replenish energy stores (carb dominant)
  2. Increase muscle size and/or muscle quality, which leads to power increases (protein dominant)
  3. Repair any damage caused by the workout (protein dominant)

Key Message: Use these guidelines to help you identify what fuels your body optimally uses pre-workout! You have to experiment to dial in the right combination!



Protein Intake:

For post-exercise nutrition, a snack of carbohydrates (50-60g = 200-240 calories of carbohydrate) and protein (12-15g; 20g is the outer limit; 12-20g of protein = 48-80 calories) is recommended. This is roughly a 3:1 carb:protein ratio and represents a total calorie intake range for carb and protein between 250-320 calories. Smoothies, protein drinks with milk, bagels with peanut butter, almond/sunflower seed butter, bananas, yogurt or a properly designed energy bar (read the label) are examples of fuel sources that could cover your post workout nutrition needs.

Key Point: Optimal intake should occur within a 45 minute window after exercise to optimize muscle repair, recovery, and growth, as well as to replenish carbohydrate/glycogen stores in the muscle and liver to fuel future workouts. Intake after this window of opportunity has passed is still beneficial, but not optimal. **Note: Recent research indicates that this window of opportunity might be much larger (up to 18 hours). So, the take home message is “don’t freak out” if you can’t get your intake within this oft cited 30-45 minute window.

You should eat a whole food meal that meets these requirements after exercise. However, if a whole food meal isn’t available immediately after exercise, consuming a liquid form of nutrition can accelerate recovery because it can be digested and absorbed rapidly. Protein shakes or energy bars are convenient when you are training hard and need to hydrate and replenish between meals or when a whole food meal is not immediately available.

Key Point: Treat nutrient timing and intake as a job that needs to get done, every day! It is part of your routine. Form the habit!

If sufficient carbohydrate is not taken in, the body will break down protein (muscle) to produce the glucose it is not getting in a process called gluconeogenesis. Not good! Also, your brain and heart need glucose 24/7. Do not be carbohydrate phobic. But, do eat healthy and more complex carbohydrates whenever you can. High-level athletes fuel their engines with a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats.

CAUTION: Avoid overconsumption of calorie-dense sports drinks (e.g., 200-250 calories per 12-20-ounces of liquid). Consider personal health concerns that include diabetes, weight management and optimal nutrition. If you are not exercising strenuously and depleting large amounts of nutrients and water, these calorically dense drinks can add excess sugar and salt/sodium to your diet. Many of the nutrients lost during exercise can be replenished through a regular, well-balanced diet—which can also be a much less expensive option when compared to supplements or other commercially available options.


Be sure to check out all of our blogs and bi-weekly posts. You’ll always find my favorite progressions, drills, coaching philosophy and trending topics here.

Douglas Brooks, MS, Exercise Physiologist, Director of Education for COREFX, is a former-Ironman® triathlete and currently directs Athlete Conditioning for Sugar Bowl Ski Academy where he works with elite junior and professional athletes. Douglas was inducted into the U.S. National Fitness Hall of Fame and has been honored by Can-Fit-Pro as the International Presenter of the Year. Coach Brooks is the author of numerous training books, and most recently, was the recipient of the IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Award.


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