Nutritional Meal Timing for Athletes

What an athlete consumes is just as important as when it’s consumed.

Regardless of your goals—if you’re looking to shed some pounds, gain some muscle mass, increase energy levels, amp up your workout, or tweak your competition prep— the proper nutrients and timing gives you that edge!

A workout contributes only a certain amount to your athletic success. NUTRIENTS contribute to the remaining!

Timing these nutrients is the most efficient way to reach your performance goals.

Any successful sports nutrition program follows 3 fueling principles: pre, during, and post-workout.


The pre-workout meal should reflect the level of intensity you are about to endure.

Remember, exercise intensity, pace, and work output decrease as glycogen levels diminish; therefore, you want to make sure you have enough energy to FUEL the demands of your workout.

Most nutritionists recommend eating a meal about 2-4 hours before you train.

This meal should consist of protein, low fat,  and good sources of low-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrate as well as water for hydration. 

This all sounds easy, but what if you are an early morning runner and get up and are out the door by 5AM?

Are you suppose to wake up at 2AM or 3AM to fuel?

No! But you need some high glycemic carbs, such as an energy drink, meal replacement shake, banana, or toast 30-45 minutes prior to your run (see "meal plan" below).

During Workout

Hydration and replenishment is key.

Your pre-workout meal has supplied you with the energy needed to fulfill your workout, and your glycogen stores are full; therefore, goals for nutrient consumption during exercise are to replace fluid losses and provide carbohydrates for maintenance of blood sugar (glucose) levels.

Drinking about 6-8oz every 15 minutes should be sufficient to maintain proper hydration status and avoid dehydration.

However, if you are exercising longer than 60 minutes, 20-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour should be consumed in order to maintain blood glucose and muscle glycogen stores. The amount will vary based on the duration of the exercise and your body weight goals. Yes, I have actually seen people GAIN weight training for an ironman!


Inadequate nutritional recovery can limit an athlete’s success.

Post-workout food is VITAL after a workout for the body to recover and muscles to rebuild.

There is a 30 minute window of opportunity after your workout when your body is most receptive to absorbing nutrients. Your body will use the nutrients to refuel, recover, and rebuild.

Don’t wait to eat! Grab a snack immediately.

The post-workout snack should consist of high-GI carbohydrates and highly absorbable protein (such as whey protein in powder form) in a 3 or 4 :1 (Carbs:Protein) ratio.

I personally believe a recovery drink or smoothie is best. These high-GI carbs cause a rise in blood sugar levels, which shuttles fluids and nutrients into muscle and body cells.

It is very important to rehydrate after a workout.

Weigh yourself before and after, and remember that every pound of body weight lost should be replaced with 16oz of water. For longer workouts lasting over an hour in very warm conditions, an electrolyte drink may be helpful.

After eating this post-workout recovery or smoothie drink, a larger meal should be eaten about 1 to 2 hours later. This meal should consist of lean protein, complex carbohydrate (low glycemic- low sugar), a moderate amount of healthy fat, and unlimited vegetables.

Meal Plan

Be strategic about the timing of your nutrients.

Make it a priority.

This means planning your daily food intake along with your training. I work with clients all the time who live busy lives and proper food timing is clearly a struggle. I help them create a meal plan that works with their schedule and gets them the results they desire.

Here is an example of a meal plan I wrote for a man who runs 8-10 miles every morning at 5AM, has a busy on-the-go kind of weekly schedule, and uses the Vemma product line for health and performance. His goal is to enhance his performance, feel energized throughout the day, and lose 5 pounds before race day.

4:30AM: High glycemic breakfast— peanut butter toast, banana, and coffee or tea

On high intensity running days (intervals, long runs, tempos) add a Verve Energy Drink.

During the 8-10 mile, 80-85 minute run: Alternate 6 ounces of water and 6 ounces of Bode Thirst or a diluted sport drink, every 20 minutes (starting with water). The Bode Thirst doesn’t provide a lot of calories but does supply electrolytes, carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals.

7:15AM: Post Workout— Vemma Bode Shake Fruit Smoothie

  • Vemma Bode shake

  • 1 cup each of frozen blueberries, frozen strawberries, and frozen peaches or mangos

  • 1 tablespoon each of acai powder, or camu berry powder

  • 2 tablespoons (or more) of hemp seeds, goji berries, flax, sesame, and/or chia seeds

  • Water and almond milk

11:30AM: Lean protein, smart healthy carbohydrate grain, 1 piece of low glycemic fruit, and unlimited very high alkaline veggies.

3:30PM: Snack— Bode Burn or Verve Energy based on the day; low glycemic fruit

7:00PM: Dinner— Brown rice, salmon, unlimited alkaline veggies

8:30PM: Bode Rest; prepare your body for rest, enhance your body’s nightly restorative processes and nourish your body for overall health

What do you to make sure you are fueled pre, during, and post workout?

Has this been a struggle for you?

Have you experienced success with meal planning your nutrient intake while training?