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How to Fuel Your Body to Get the Most out of Your Movement

We often think of movement as being something we predominantly do for our physical health. And whilst strengthening our bodies is a fundamental part of our wellness, exercising for the benefit of our mind and mental health is just as an important goal to focus on when it comes to our overall wellbeing. 

This years Mental Health Awareness Week theme is 'Movement: moving more for your mental health', as the way you move your body plays such a key role in your brain, gut, nervous system and hormone health, and ultimately how happy, calm, balanced and resilient you feel.

A crucial part of that movement is how we actually fuel our bodies and minds to be able to support ourselves properly through the exercise we do. Making sure we replenish ourselves before and after our workouts can make all the difference to ensuring we have the resources to perform, strengthen and recover efficiently. 

Here are a few tips to help you gain a deeper understanding of some of the best nutritional choices you can make when it comes to what to eat before, after (and even during) your workouts.


Ensuring that we exercise in a ‘fed state’ rather than a ‘fasted state’ is important to ensure our metabolic processes continue to function optimally long term and that we’re not repeatedly putting excess stress on the body. This is particularly necessary for supporting female hormonal health.

If we are regularly exercising on an empty stomach, we will be excessively firing the stress hormone cortisol, which can then over time suppress the normal production of sex hormones. Longer term this can impact the health of the menstrual cycle and possibly fertility. But studies show that all genders perform better when they work out well-fuelled, particularly with high intensity workouts, as we then have adequate levels of something called muscle glycogen, a form of glucose stored in the muscles, that our bodies can draw upon to be able to optimise the type of exercise we are doing. This is true for any type of exercise, whether that is lifting weights, cycling, running, yoga or pilates, however the more high-intensity, the more important it is to fuel up. We also want to be as energised as possible for the benefit of our mental health, in order to ensure a balanced mood through our movement and to prevent any feelings of overwhelm or anxiety. 

Working out in a ‘fed-state’ doesn’t mean having a large meal just before you hit the gym. It means either having a meal around 60-90 minutes before you work out (protein is still a key focus at this point) or having a smaller snack around 30 minutes beforehand, particularly if you are exercising first thing in the morning.

If we are having a pre-workout snack we want to be having something easily digestible, but that contains carbohydrate, healthy fat and a little bit of fibre. This is a perfect combination that will help to provide the body with energy, but in a way that is slow-release, to ensure you will stay as fuelled as possible whilst exercising. Here are some pre-workout snack ideas:

  1. Rice cakes or a piece of sourdough with nut butter and slices of banana

  2. Yoghurt with berries and a drizzle of raw honey

  3. A simple smoothie e.g. almond milk, ½ banana, nut butter and a scoop of collagen

During exercise

It goes without saying that hydration is essential during exercise and replenishing fluid loss is key to having an effective workout. However, many minerals are also lost through sweat, so adding electrolytes to your water can really help to boost your brain function, how well you can move, and generally how you feel throughout your exercise. The electrolytes we really need are sodium, potassium and magnesium. You can simply add the juice of a ½ a lemon and a pinch of sea salt to your water bottle, or try an electrolyte formula; my favourite brands are BodyBio, Humantra or LMNT (follow my link to receive 10% off all of those brands on Healf -


When it comes to our post-exercise re-fuel, we want to be focusing on protein, but also making sure we have some healthy carbohydrate and fat included.

The reason protein is such an important element at this point, is that it contains the amino acids we need to help our muscles recover, repair and rebuild. This helps our bodies become stronger, but also helps to ensure that we can continue to move our bodies well into our later life.

We also need protein to produce neurotransmitters within the brain and gut (e.g. the happy hormone serotonin), so making sure we replenish our protein intake will have a positive impact on our mental health too; boosting feelings of happiness and calm.

Some supportive ways to get your protein could be from eggs, oily fish, collagen or a clean protein powder. You could get your complex carbohydrate intake from oats, sourdough or even some sweet potato, and your healthy fat from yoghurt, avocado or nut butter. 

Try this protein banana bread with an added gut-health boost using coconut kefir, to make from scratch and re-fuel with:


  • 3 bananas (mashed)

  • 2 eggs (make sure they are at room temperature)

  • 2 cup almond flour (or you can sub for any flour you want)

  • 1 scoop protein powder or collagen (I use Nuzest protein powder)

  • ⅓ cup maple syrup

  • 6 tablespoons coconut oil (melted and cooled), butter or olive oil

  • ¼ cup coconut kefir or coconut or greek yoghurt

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and line a rectangular tin with baking paper.

  2. In a blender or a bowl mix together the mashed banana, eggs, maple syrup, kefir or yoghurt and vanilla extract until well combined.

  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond flour, protein powder or collagen, baking soda, cinnamon and sea salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.

  4. Next, mix in the melted and cooled coconut oil (or butter) and fold in the chopped walnuts.

  5. Pour the banana bread mix into the baking tin. Optional but not required: split a banana down the middle vertically then add on top of the batter. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean or just about. Allow the banana bread to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove and transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Once cool, slice into pieces and serve with almond butter - enjoy!

Things to avoid when it comes to your sports nutrition

There are a lot of products on the market designed to support you with your exercise, and whilst there are many reputable brands out there, there are also a lot of products that can be detrimental to your health.

You want to be avoiding protein bars and energy drinks that are filled with inflammatory and processed ingredients that you don’t recognise and also get savvy about clever marketing that labels. Things described as ‘high protein’, might make you think they are providing the nutrition you need or are going to make you ‘better at your sport’, when actually they could be eliciting a cascade of inflammation in the body if eaten regularly.

Stick to whole foods, home making your protein bars, or choose brands that you know use quality and actually healthful ingredients. If I’m in a rush, I like the brand IQBAR for protein bars. 

Next Steps

If you’re interested in getting personalised support with your nutrition for both supporting your exercise and with your general health and wellness, book into the Nutrition Drop-in Clinic on 15th May here for a free 20 minute consultation.

Written by Caroline Rose 


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