Guide to Nutrient Timing: Basics

When you eat is just as important as what you eat for optimal performance. Fueling with the right types of food and fluids before, during, and after activity can mean the difference between mission success and failure. Follow these tips on what and when to eat to perform at your best.

Before you work out

 

What

When

Examples

For activity < 60 minutes

A carb-rich meal or snack of 200–300 calories

Avoid high-fat or high-fiber foods for easier digestion.

30–60 minutes

  • Bread with jam
  • Cereal and milk
  • Banana or apple with nut butter

For activity > 60 minutes

1–4 g carb/kg (0.5–1.8 g carb/lb)

Adjust timing and amount of carbs to match your schedule & activity.

1–4 hours

Examples for 185-lb person fueling 1g/kg:

  • Medium banana and 2 packets instant apple-cinnamon oatmeal
  • Orange juice and whole-wheat bagel with jelly
  • Waffles with syrup and berries

Fluid

16 fl oz

2–4 hours

Water

Caffeine

(Optional)

200 mg

30–60 minutes

16 oz coffee, 2 pieces caffeinated gum or mints

 

While you work out

 

What

When

Examples

For activity > 1 hour

30–60 g carbs

Every hour

At least 1–2 options (~25 g carb each)

  • 1 sports gel
  • 3 sport chews
  •  20 mini-pretzels
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 18 gummy-bears
  • 25 jelly beans
  • 2 squeezable fruit pouches
  • 16 oz sports drink

For activity > 3 hours

Up to 90 g carbs

Every hour

Up to 3.5 options from examples above (~25 g carb each)

Fluid & Electrolytes

16–32 fl oz; adjust to environment and sweat rate

Limit to 48 fl oz per hour

Replenish electrolytes with food, sports drinks, or both

Every hour

Water and/or sports drink

  • 16 fl oz water bottle
  • ½ standard water bottle
  • ½ 1-qt canteen
  • 100 oz hydration pack (finish in 4–5 hours)

Caffeine

(Optional) 

200 mg

Every 3–4 hours as needed

16 oz coffee, 2 pieces caffeinated gum or mints

WarningDon’t exceed 600 mg in 24 hours or 800 mg for sustained operations

 

After you work out

 

What

When

How

Meal or snack

High in carbs (at least 50 grams) with 15–30 g protein

Include salty foods

Within 2 hours

  • Turkey and cheddar cheese on whole-wheat bread with an apple
  • Peanut butter and jelly on whole-wheat bread with chocolate milk
  • Low-fat Greek yogurt with trail mix and fruit

Fluid

16 oz for every lb lost during exercise or until urine is pale yellow

Begin immediately after workout

Water and/or sports drink

For more information:

References

Headquarters, Departments of the Army, the Navy, & the Air Force. (2017). Nutrition and menu standards for human performance optimization. (AR 40–25/OPNAVINST 10110.1/MCO 10110.49/AFI 44–141). Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://www.secnav.navy.mil/doni/Directives/10000%20General%20Material%20and%20Equipment%20Support/10-100%20Personnel%20Material%20Support/10110.1.pdf.

Karpinski, C., & Rosenbloom, C. A. (2017). Sports nutrition: A handbook for professionals (6th ed.). Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine joint position statement. Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 48(3), 543–568. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852