Eat to perform every day
A student from the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, N.C., creates a salad at the organization’s dedicated Warrior Restaurant. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. – When working out, weightlifting or training for competition, it is important to consider how diet and hydration can affect energy levels, endurance and overall performance. The saying “you can’t out-exercise a poor diet” couldn't be more true.

How individuals fuel their body is indicative of how well they are going to be able to perform and the overall results they will see from their fitness regimen. The following are some key considerations regarding the correlation between nutrition and exercise.


Before beginning any kind of training, weightlifting or exercise, it is important to fuel up with a pre-workout meal or snack. This step is often overlooked, but it is vital for performance. It is especially important before a morning workout since it will provide the body with much-needed energy after the overnight fast. Without sufficient fuel before a workout, a person may experience lack of motivation, dizziness and fatigue, which are symptoms of low blood sugar.

Those who only have 30-to-60 minutes before beginning to exercise should aim for a small amount of carbohydrate-containing foods – i.e., a slice of toast with jelly or a small amount of yogurt, accompanied by 8 ounces of a sports beverage or 4 ounces of 100-percent juice. In general before workouts, it is best to eat foods that are higher carb, lower in fat and lower in fiber. Other great snack ideas include bananas, crackers, dry cereal and low-fat popcorn.

After eating a full meal during other parts of the day, individuals should give their body at least 3-to-4 hours to digest the food before heavy exercise. A smaller meal can be metabolized in 2-3 hours.

During Exercise

During any kind of training, the best thing individuals can do for their body is to stay hydrated. It is important to drink at least 16 ounces of water 2-to-3 hours before engaging in exercise.

Staying hydrated before and during exercise is beneficial because of the impact dehydration has on the body and overall performance. Even a 1-to-2 percent loss of weight from water is capable of compromising the body’s ability to regulate temperature and may negatively impact performance. Dehydration of greater than 3 percent of body weight will increase the likelihood of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke while also degrading speed, stamina and overall endurance.

Depending on the intensity of exercise, it’s a good rule of thumb to try to ingest 7-to-10 ounces of water every 20 minutes. Gatorade is a popular choice among athletes; however, drinking one of these sports drinks is not always necessary unless the workout lasts longer than an hour or the individual is in a very hot and dry climate. Water is the best source for maintaining overall hydration.


After completing a fitness routine, it is important to replenish glycogen levels (the storage form of energy in muscles), especially after cardiovascular workouts lasting longer than an hour. Consuming a post-workout snack with a 4-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein within 45 minutes to one hour after a workout is effective for maximizing glycogen stores.

A good post-workout snack consists of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and protein to repair and rebuild body tissues. Some examples include chocolate milk, carrot sticks with hummus, cheese and crackers, peanut butter and an apple, and trail mix with dried fruit. In order to maximize repair and recovery after lifting weights, aim for about 20-30 grams of high-quality, lean protein within the first hour to maximize muscle protein synthesis. Ideal sources include lean meats or low fat dairy products (i.e., 1 percent milk or yogurt) that are high in whey and casein protein.

Throughout the workout cycle, nutrition and hydration is absolutely vital for fueling one’s body to accomplish goals and achieve the desired results. Nutrition is a key component of overall health and wellness. How we fuel our bodies every day will determine our ability to reach our goals.

Members of the military community have access to a variety of resources that can help guide them throughout their fitness journey. They include the Healthy Living section of the Defense Commissary Agency website – – which offers articles, links to exercise and fitness resources, and better-for-you recipes.

The Army Wellness Center continuously strives to support the Fort Lee community by helping individuals achieve health and wellness goals. The facility is open Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. Offered services include body composition testing through the BodPod, metabolic assessment, virtual health coaching, and in-person (max of five personnel) and virtual health education classes. For more information and appointments, call 804-734-9925.