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5 Ways to Maximise your Performance at the Gym with your Diet

Whether you’re a newbie or a well-seasoned gym junkie, what you eat to fuel your body is important at all stages to get the most out of your workout! The foods you choose will depend on your goals – which could be performance, body composition, fitness levels or aesthetics. It also depends on the type, duration and intensity of the exercise. Here are some key ways to maximise performance and get the most out of your work out!

1.  Pre-workout strategic snacking

When you eat matters just as much as what you eat. Depending on how sensitive your stomach is, it’s a good idea to time your last main meal at least 2-4 hours before exercise to avoid upset.

You can add in a light snack 1-2 hours before if you find that you need the extra energy to get through a workout. In some cases, training on low energy stores, such as first thing in the morning may be beneficial for weight loss, however you’re better off having a snack if the extra energy improves your performance or if exercising on an empty stomach leaves you feeling lightheaded.

A pre-workout meal or snack ideally includes some carbohydrate to top up energy stores, is convenient (especially if on the go), and lastly, is easy to digest – not too high in fat or fibre. However, this does depend on how sensitive your gutis. Ideas include:

2.  Post-workout strategic snacking

Recovery nutrition is important within an hour of finishing exercise. The focus is on protein to help our muscles recover and grow, as well as carbohydrate to replenish energy stores. If you have the time, it’s worth preparing a whole food snack or meal that will provide good quality nutrients compared to quick, processed options.

Ideas include:

  • Chicken (lean) and salad roll
  • Tinned tuna and steamed rice (microwavable)
  • Banana and peanut butter smoothie (1 banana, ½ cup milk, 100g yoghurt, ½ tbsp peanut butter and 1 tsp honey)

Quick options to stock up on:

  • John West tuna and beans
  • Greek yoghurt and a piece of fruit (such as YoPro or Chobani)
  • High protein muesli bar (such as Carmen’s)

3.  Are you eating enough overall?

In short, an energy (AKA calorie) deficit is required to lose fat and a surplus is required to gain muscle. In an effort to lose weight quickly, many people are overly restrictive with calories leading to tiredness, irritability, and reduced performance due to a lack of energy.

Ensuring that you eat enough calories to sustain your body is very important as being overly restrictive can lead to a slower metabolism and thus make it more challenging to lose weight long term. For a quick estimate of your requirements see this online Basal Metabolic Rate calculator.

The most effective way of determining your requirements is to complete a Body Composition scan and see a dietitian who can not only determine your requirements, but also set an appropriate deficit or surplus depending on your goals, and provide practical strategies to achieve this.

4.  Building muscle

You may want to build or maintain muscle for performance, aesthetic goals or to increase your basal metabolic rate for weight management. Most of us know that protein is important for muscle growth however, distribution of protein over the day is just as important.

Our muscles have a ‘protein cap’ meaning they can only utilise a set amount of protein at once. Subsequently, there is no point in trying to get all your protein at one meal. For best results, spread it over the day between meals and snacks. This is also a great way to manage your appetite, as protein is a very satiating nutrient.

Your total protein needs will depend on your goal, however 1.2-1.5g per kg body weight is a good reference point. Below is an example day of protein distribution for someone that is 80kg and aiming for 120g protein per day (1.5g/kg body weight).

  • Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with ½ cup milk and 2 slices wholemeal toast (30g protein)
  • Snack: Chobani yoghurt tub with fruit of choice (15g protein)
  • Lunch: 150g cooked chicken on a wholemeal wrap with 1 cup of salad and sauce (30g protein)
  • Snack: 95g tin of tuna on crackers with tomato (15g protein)
  • Dinner: 150g lean red meat cooked with 1 medium potato and 2 cups of vegetables (30g protein)

5. Hydration

Hydration is important for regulating your body temperature, muscle contractions and blood volume. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to hydration – however make sure you begin exercise well hydrated by drinking throughout the day.

How much you need to drink will depend on your body composition, how active you are and the weather. In general, you should aim to drink 2-3 litres of fluid a day. Keep in mind that if you are exercising, you will sweat and will need to rehydrate or even keep a drink bottle on hand during exercise depending on how long the session is.


It is important to remember that this advice is general, and that tailoring strategies to suit your lifestyle is key to long-term success. Working with an exercise physiologist and a dietitian will provide you with a more individual approach, suited to your requirements. The team at the Healthy Eating Hub are passionate about teaching people how to eat well for the rest of their lives through building skills and practicing habits one at a time. Book in with one of the experienced dietitians at The Healthy Eating Clinic or call us on 6174 4663.