There is no shortage of advice for boosting exercise efficiency and muscle strength. One day we are advised to consume the latest Holy Grail of nutrition and the next we are told to skip the food and instead stomp three times or jump twice. It can be confusing. If you are still wondering about the best way to fuel – when and what. Read on for common sense strategies that really can give you the boost you need for the best workout.

When to Fuel

The short answer about when to fuel is, you guessed it, not such a short answer. A couple of factors should be considered. These include when you exercise. Your body’s need for fuel will be different in the morning than it will be in the evening or afternoon. Assuming you are planning a moderate workout (60 minutes or less) in the morning you will want to eat something to replenish your energy after a night of fasting. Your need for food may not be as urgent for an evening workout if you had a nutritious breakfast and lunch. Be careful though, heavier meals (more than 800 calories) need 3-4 hours for digestion before your workout. Regardless of when you exercise you are unlikely to need food during a moderate workout.

Planning a more vigorous workout (90-120 minutes)? Your best bet is to fuel before, after and maybe even during exercise. Be sure to experiment with what works best for you so that your workout is not ruined by intestinal upset. Generally, if you are eating just before a workout (less than an hour) you want to consume no more than 200 to 300 calories. Eating during your workout can help you avoid hitting the proverbial wall. Hitting the wall happens when glycogen stores are depleted. Once this happens, it is virtually impossible to continue because even though your mind is willing your body is not able. Avoid mid workout crash and burn with carbs – a simple energy bar can do the trick. Taking in fuel during your workout supports continued exertion and allows you to build stamina and endurance. After vigorous exercise take in some protein and carbs to help rebuild muscle and jumpstart your recovery.

What to Fuel With

–  If you have under an hour before you intend to exercise moderately, go for easily digestible foods like a banana or bagel with peanut butter.

–  Many people insist that caffeine boosts their performance. If you want to give it a try, be sure to do it in a controlled environment  in case you become jittery or have to deal with stomach upset.

–  Within 30 minutes of exercise consume protein and carbs. Suggestions include low fat chocolate milk, Greek yogurt with strawberries or turkey and cheese.

–  During exercise lasting more than an hour you can consume energy bars, gels and sports drinks. Under an hour, you don’t really need anything.

–  The night before vigorous exercise consider consuming carbs. Take it easy on the fiber unless you know how your body will react.

 A word about energy gels and sports drinks

Most people cannot sustain a productive work out beyond 90-120 minutes without fuel. These products can be useful during a long workout to boost performance and energy. If you choose to use them train your body to adapt to them just as you train it to adapt to your workout routine. Finally, don’t forget water. Dehydration is a fast way to derail your goal of boosting efficiency and building strength.