When it comes to weight loss, a healthy diet reigns supreme. That said, adding in a regular dose of exercise can help nudge the scale closer toward your goal—as long as you’re fueling right.
If you skimp on calories and nutrients, you won’t be able to hit it the gym hard enough to actually get much out of your workouts. And forget about recovery! Meanwhile, if you lean too far in the other direction, your weekly run mileage won’t be able to keep up with your caloric intake. Here, experts outline exactly what (and how much) you should be eating according to your weight-loss workout of choice.
You Love: Cardio and Endurance Workouts
Eat this way! Endurance-based exercise such as running, cycling, and swimming is typically performed at a moderate intensity, which means, to get the most out of every workout, you’ll need slightly more calories than you were before getting your cardio on. According to Marie Spano, C.S.S.D., C.S.C.S., sports nutritionist for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, a good way to estimate your daily energy needs is to first multiply your body weight in pounds by 17. That equals, roughly, how many calories you burn on days you sweat it out. (So, for a 150-pound woman, that’s 2,550 calories per day.) Next, subtract 250 to 500 calories to come up with a caloric goal that will allow you to maintain caloric deficit (a.k.a. burn more calories per day than you’re taking in, a requisite for weight loss).
In terms of where to get those carbs, Spano recommends eating three to four grams of carbohydrates and 1 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. For the same 150-pound woman, that works out to 204 to 272 grams of carbs and 68 to 109 grams of protein per day.
Why so many carbs? Well, even though the body tends to rely more on fat than carbs for energy during lower-intensity, longer-duration cardio sessions, carbs still provide a lot of the get-up-and-go you need, says Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., assistant professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Great pre-workout options include a turkey and Swiss sandwich with a banana or some plain Greek yogurt with strawberries and a handful of walnuts.
During your workout, aim to drink seven to 10 ounces of fluids every 10 to 20 minutes. If you’re exercising for longer than one hour, consider also replenishing your carb stores mid-workout with gels, sport drinks, honey packets, or whole foods that are easy to carry and digest, Pritchett says. Bananas, orange slices, and homemade rice cakes will all help get the job done.
You Love: Banging Out Heavy Reps In The Gym
Eat this way! Strength training is a high-intensity activity and calls for a little more energy compared to lower-intensity exercises, Pritchett says. Find your daily energy expenditure by multiplying your body weight in pounds by 20. (So, for a 150-pound woman, that’s 3,000 calories per day.) Again, subtract 250 to 500 from the total to narrow in on a caloric deficit that works for you.
Since every strength workout creates microdamage within muscle cells, it’s important to hone in on muscle-repairing and -building protein. Eat 1.4 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of your body weight per day, according to Spano. For our lovely 150-pound woman, that works out to 95 to 116 grams per day. Meanwhile, know that you can get by eating fewer carbs compared to your cardio bunny friends. Shoot for five to six grams per kilogram of your body weight per day (or, if you weigh 150 pounds, 350 to 408 grams).
The one time your caloric balance should lean toward the carb-centric is before and after exercise. Fuel your training session with a carb-focused pre-workout snack like oatmeal or an apple and a stick of cheese. Then, after wrapping up your workout, jump-start your recovery with a meal that blends at least 20 grams of protein with 60 to 80 grams of high-quality carbohydrates. The carbs will actually help get protein in your muscles to minimize breakdown and jumpstart the recovery process, Spano says.
You Love: HIIT and Bootcamp Classes
Eat this way! Like strength training, HIIT, cycling, treadmill, and boot camp classes will typically qualify as high-intensity. (They don’t call it high-intensity interval training for nothing.) Therefore, you’ll want to follow the same daily energy guidelines as your strength training counterpart. Again, find your daily energy needs by multiplying your bodyweight by 20, and then subtracting those good ’ole 250 to 500 calories. Aim to get five to six grams of carbs per kilogram of your body weight per day, and 1.4 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight.
To get the most out of an intense workout, it’s important to get enough of the right kind of fuel beforehand, mainly in the form of carbohydrates. “If you don’t have the energy on board, your intensity level will drop,” Spano says. While your body can typically access fat stores quickly enough to keep you going during a longer endurance workout, you’ll drop mid-way through HIIT or boot camp if you skimp on your pre-workout carbs.
Eat approximately one gram of carbohydrate per pound body weight about 2.5 hours prior to exercise, along with a moderate amount of protein, she says. A PB&J sandwich on whole-grain bread, along with six ounces of yogurt, is one great option. During your workout, down seven to 10 ounces of fluids every 10 to 20 minutes.
You Love: Bending and Stretching
Eat this way! Since lower-intensity forms of exercise such as yoga and Pilates don’t require a ton of energy to perform, you won’t really need any extra calories for fuel. If these are your go-to workouts, calculate how many calories you need to work your way toward weight loss by multiplying your bodyweight by 16, and then subtracting 250 to 500. You’ll be safe if you stick with general dietary recommendations on carbs: 130 grams of carbohydrates. Try to get roughly 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal.
One tip: Make sure you’re well hydrated before class, especially if hot yoga is your jam. Spano suggests sipping a drink with electrolytes in between downward dogs.
Originally written for Women’s Health!