Nutrition Guide for Workout Days and Rest Days


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 certain foods that help you get the most out of your cardio and strength workouts. But don’t forget to pay attention to what you eat on rest days, because this can really impact how fast you recover.  

Table of contents

Workout Days and Rest Days: What should I eat before, during, and after workouts?

Cardio Days

  • Before a cardio workout:
    Three hours before training: include carbs from whole foods, protein, and fats in your meal. Try out this sweet potato skins recipe. If you eat less than one 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 the workout:
    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 a cardio session:
    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-acting carbs after the first workout. These include white bread, white flour pasta, rice, or potatoes.

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 the workout: 
    Two to three hours before training: include carbs from whole foods, protein, and fats in your meal. You can try our easy recipe for a spicy shakshuka. If you eat less than one hour before training, opt for a shake or smoothie that includes carbs and protein.
  • During strength training:
    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 your workout:
    Plan to eat about 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 combined with high-carb foods after exercise prevents protein breakdown and stimulates synthesis, encouraging faster recovery and adaptation.

What Should I Eat on Rest Days?

Rest days are 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. How about a low carb pizza?

Carbohydrates, Fat, and Protein: What should I eat on which workout days or rest days?

It’s important to eat quality carbs, fats, and protein every day. 

However, you should align your sports nutrition with the type of training you’re doing:

  • On cardio days make sure to top up your carb stores, because having carbs beforehand fuels long endurance training and it also enhances shorter intensity training.
  • After a cardio workout, 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 30 minutes so that your muscles can recover and rebuild right away.

Would you like to learn more about macronutrients? Click on the banner to reach our articles on fats, carbohydrates, and protein. 

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