Easy Nutrition Guide >> What to Eat on Cardio, Strength, and Rest Day

Man cooking

If you take in all the macronutrients – fats, carbohydrates, and protein – then you shouldn’t have to worry about your workout performance and recovery, right? It’s not quite that simple. There are ways to fuel your body for specific types of workouts to help you get the maximum benefit from your training. Here’s a breakdown in the guide below.

Index:

Woman drinking a smoothie

What to eat on a cardio, strength, and rest day

Cardio Day

  • Before:
    If you eat 3 hours before training: include carbs from whole foods, protein, and fats in your meal. Try out this sweet potato skins recipeIf you eat less than 1 hour before training: opt for a shake or smoothie that includes carbs and protein, but is low in fiber so that it’s easy to digest.
  • During:
    Hydrate with water and/or an electrolyte drink, especially in warm weather. If you are exercising for more 90 minutes, have a sports drink that contains carbs. Most people burn between 30 to 60 g of carbs per hour, depending on body size and metabolism.
  • After:
    Plan to wait 45-60 minutes after exercising to eat; this will help you maximize your time in the fat burning zone.(1) Your post exercise meal should contain carbs and protein from whole foods in a ratio of 3:1. There is no need for fast-digesting refined carbs, since the carbs from whole foods will replenish your glycogen stores by the next day. However, if you do plan to work out twice a day, you will need to consume some fast carbs after the first workout. You might just love this chickpea avocado salad.

Avocado toast

If you need help determining the amount of carbs that you need to take in for the day, check out the Runtastic Carb Calculator here:

Strength Training Day

  • Before:  
    If you eat 2-3 hours before training: include carbs from whole foods, protein, and fats in your meal. You can try our easy recipe for a spicy shakshukaIf you eat less than 1 hour before training, opt for a shake or smoothie that includes carbs and protein.

Jemand macht sich einen Proteinshake nach dem Training

  • During:
    Take in some BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids). BCAAs are a group of three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are considered the building blocks of muscle protein. Also, since BCAA supplements require no digestion, they bypass the liver and go right into the bloodstream for instant use by the muscles. Consuming BCAAs during exercise has been shown to increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis and reduce the extent of muscle damage and soreness post workout.(2)
  • After:
    Plan to eat within 15-30 minutes after a strength session.(3, 4) You want to get the nutrients in quickly so that you can replenish your muscles and allow them to grow stronger. Eating protein after exercise prevents protein breakdown and stimulates synthesis, encouraging faster recovery and adaptation.

Salmon filets

Rest Day

This is the perfect time to try out some low carb recipes. You don’t need to top up your carb stores or add extra protein to your meals since you’re not exercising.  Make sure that you’re consuming enough healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, and grass fed butter.  Fats can slow digestion, but this is something you don’t have to worry about on a non-workout day. On rest days there’s no need to stick to a schedule of when to eat. Wait until hunger strikes to consume your meals. Here’s a recipe suggestion for you: low carb pizza.

While it’s important to take in quality carbs, fats, and protein every day, here are the key differences for fueling for cardio vs strength training:

  • On a cardio day make sure to top up your carb stores, because having carbs beforehand fuels long endurance training and it also enhances shorter intensity training.
  • After cardio exercise wait 45-60 minutes before eating to maximize your fat burning window.
  • On a strength day top up on protein before training.(5) This can reduce markers of muscle damage, and the less damage that is done to your muscles, the faster you will recover. It also supplies your body with amino acids, which can boost your muscle building capabilities.
  • After strength training consume your food within 15-30 minutes so that your muscles can recover and rebuild right away.

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Jen Rhines Jen Rhines is one of the best female runners in the world and has participated in the Olympic Games three times. "I've been competing internationally as a professional athlete for 17 years. I can't imagine a life without running," says Jen, who now lives in San Diego, where she works as a running and health coach. View all posts by Jen Rhines »