Having the right nutrition plan is a key part of increasing your exercise performance because you want to make sure you’re getting the right calories and nutrients.

Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than just eating more vegetables and less junk food. You also need to eat the right balance of foods and at the right times of day.

By following this guide, you can learn exactly what you should be eating, and when, to increase your fitness and exercise performance.

Start your day well

Studies show that eating a regular breakfast reduces people’s risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

By starting off your day with a nutritious meal, your blood sugar levels will be more stable, and that benefits your muscles and brain. It’s even more important to eat a healthy breakfast on the days when you’ll be exercising, to avoid feeling lightheaded or lethargic.

A good breakfast has to include more than simple carbohydrates like toast or a bagel. Look for foods high in protein and fiber to keep your hunger pangs at bay and give you needed energy.

Replace sugar-filled cereals with oatmeal, oat brain, or whole grain cereal topped with nuts or milk or a non-dairy alternative. If you like having toast, switch your bread to whole grain and add either eggs or peanut butter for protein.

Focus on good carbohydrates

There are so many diets out there promoting low-carb or no-carb intake that it’s normal for you to think that carbohydrates are all bad.

However, carbs are the main source of energy for the body, and 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbs, especially if you’re exercising that day. Focus on eating the right kind of carbs, though, not what’s in processed foods and sweets. Look for complex carbs in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and legumes.

Whole grains are better than refined grains because they take more time to digest, giving you energy for longer and keeping your blood sugar levels stable. They also have the necessary vitamins and minerals so important to staying fit.

Add protein to your meals

Protein is necessary for your body to function from growing, maintaining and repairing it. Adults need to eat 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of their body weight (0.36 grams per pound), and this number goes up if you’re exercising more. Protein sources include meat like chicken, beef, or fish, dairy, legumes like beans and lentils, and eggs.

The healthiest sources of protein are those that have low saturated and trans fat. You should also limit your red meat and processed meat intake.

Eat more fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and more that your body needs to function, on top of being low in calories and fat. Every meal should be at least half full of fruits and veggies.

You should also be diversifying your intake by choosing different colors or fruits and vegetables to get a good mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Some healthy snacks for before or after a workout should be dried fruits or raw veggies.

Eat healthy fats

Fats are another nutrition item that gets a bad rap. It’s important to eat unsaturated healthy fats to reduce the risk of inflammation and give you calories.

Fat is the main fuel used in aerobic exercises but is also great for long workouts by giving you the essential fatty acids and calories you need to be active. Healthy sources of fat include nuts and seeds, avocados, olives, and oils like olive oil.

Before you exercise

You want to fuel up before a workout with a good balance of carbs and protein. Good pre-workout snacks will combine carbs and protein to give you the energy you need that’s impossible to achieve with junk foods.

Some good pre-workout foods include the following:

  • Bananas: these fruits are filled with potassium and magnesium, two important nutrients to eat daily. By eating a banana before or after a workout, you’re replenishing your minerals and giving yourself some good natural sugars. If you want more protein, add some peanut butter on your banana.
  • Berries, grapes, and oranges: these fruits are packed with water, vitamins, and minerals. Not only are they easy on your intestines but they also give you a good boost of energy and hydration. For an option with more protein, mix them with some yogurt.
  • Nuts: these are an excellent source of heart-healthy fats that also give you some protein and important nutrients. By eating some nuts before your workout, you’ll be sure to have enough energy to carry you through. Include them with fresh or dried fruit to get some good carbs. You might want to eat these a bit earlier though, because high-fat foods can slow down your digestion and sit in your stomach during your workout, so try out different options.
  • Nut butters: nut butters are excellent workout foods because they are full of protein, and go well paired with some healthy carb options like an apple, a banana, whole-grain crackers or bread, and more. If you’re not a fan of peanuts, there’s also almond butter, cashew butter, and other good options.

Avoid cutting calories quickly

You might be tempted to cut a lot of calories from your meals if you want to lose weight or get more toned, but you don’t want to go too far. You should never be feeling exhausted or ill from a weight loss diet because it’s a sure sign you’re not getting enough calories to be healthy.

Speak with a doctor or nutritionist to find out more about how many calories you need for your unique lifestyle and weight goals.

It’s all about balance

When you’re living an active lifestyle, you’ll soon find out which foods you prefer and which give you the most energy. Listen to your body and eat what feels right.

Remember that balance is key, so eat a mix of carbs, protein, and fats from different sources and make sure you’re getting a varied mix of nutrients.

Author Bio:

Michael Dehoyos

Michael Dehoyos, a lifestyle blogger and editor at Academic Brits, shares his knowledge about health and fitness with his readers. He enjoys working out and trying out new health products then sharing his experiences with his audience.