Nutrition Strategy, Timing and Hydration

Last Updated: November 29, 2023
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Performance Triad Nutrition: Eat Right and Get Results     


 Fueling with the right amount of CarbohydrateProtein, and Healthy Fats promotes energy, endurance, stamina, and muscle growth. Benefits of proper fueling include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Decreased post-exercise muscle soreness.
  • Stronger and healthier muscles.

Plan your meals like you plan your workouts! A plan for eating and hydrating before, during, and after physical training is essential.

Pre-Workout: Don't start your workout on an empty tank!

  • Eat a snack or small meal 2-4 hours before exercise.
  • Drink 2-3 cups of water approximately 2-3 hours prior to exercise.
  • Early morning workouts can be fueled with 8-16 ounces of sports beverage, piece of fruit, toast, or other light snack.

During: Finish the workout as hard as you started!

Most people don't need anything other than water during exercise lasting less than 1 hour.

  • For sessions lasting 60-90 minutes or more:
    • Starting at the 20-minute mark, consume 10-20 grams of carbohydrate (fruit, sports drink, commercial sports bar or granola bar, gel shot, etc.) every 20 minutes.
    • Use a sports drink (containing sodium and carbohydrate) as your fuel and fluid.
    • Energy drinks are not the same as sports drinks and should never be used for hydration.

Post-Workout: Don't waste your workout!

  • Timing is crucial for optimum growth and recovery from your workout.
  • Refuel and rehydrate within 30-60 minutes after strenuous activity.
  • Eat a mixed fuel of carbohydrate and protein.
  • Great post-activity muscle recovery and energy boosters include: low-fat chocolate milk, 100% fruit juice (8 oz.), whole-grain bread peanut butter and banana, low-fat yogurt plus fruit, or a commercial protein-containing sports bar.

You can't "out exercise" a poor diet. Follow this guidance...EVERY MEAL, EVERY DAY!

  • Fruits and vegetables are loaded with carbohydrates, natural antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that enhance recovery and support your immune system.
  • Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for your muscles (especially after high-intensity activities) and the only fuel source for your brain (helps you focus). Whole-grain sources have more fiber and vitamins essential for energy metabolism. Sources: whole-grain breads, cereal and pastas, rice, oatmeal, legumes (beans), and fruit.
  • Lean proteins provide the amino acids your muscles need to grow, repair, and recover. Sources: skinless poultry, fish, lean beef, and pork; low-fat milk and yogurt; legumes (beans) eggs, and tofu. Nuts and seeds are also a good protein (and healthy fat) source.

Healthy Fats- Unsaturated fats, especially omega fatty acids, can be healthy when eaten in small amounts. Sources: olives, salmon, walnuts, almonds, flax, and avocados.


Loss of water = Loss of performance

It doesn't take much water loss for your performance to suffer. With only 5% body weight of water, your speed and concentration are reduced. It doesn't matter how fit you are, what your body composition is, or how old you are, you can easily become dehydrated. It can happen quickly when you are physically active, especially in extreme climates.

Weight loss is used to measure water loss. The weight you lose over a period of several hours of physical activity is the body water you have lost in the form of sweat. In a 150-pound person, a 1.5 pound weight loss would be a loss of 1% of body weight and about 3 cups of sweat. To avoid dehydration that can harm your performance and health, you might have to make yourself drink when you are not thirsty.

Follow these steps to prevent dehydration:

  • Make water your first choice of fluids
    • Cool plain water is the best performance fluid replacer for any physical activity that last less than 90 minutes.
    • Water is always BETTER than soda, energy drinks, coffee, beer or full-strength fruit juice, and EQUAL  to sports drinks for replacing the fluid you lose.
  • Don't wait until you are thirsty to drink.
    • By the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated.
    • Drink beyond your feeling of thirst. If you stop drinking when your thirst is satisfied, you have replaced only about two-thirds of the water you have lost.
    • Sip frequently rather than gulp all at once; drinking small amounts of fluids at a time is more effective than large amounts only occasionally.
  • Monitor fluid loss.
    • Monitor urine color-  when you are hydrated, urine is clear or pale yellow. It is dark yellow or brown when you are dehydrated.
    • Weigh yourself before and after activity to see how much water you have lost. Drink 2-3 cups for every pound you lose during physical activity.
  • Drink regularly and frequently. Drink at least 8-10 cups of water a day at regular intervals. In extreme climates you will need even more water to prevent dehydration.

Drink before, during, and after activity. Get into the habit of drinking regularly and frequently all day. Use these guidelines:

  • Before:
    • Drink a minimum of 2 - 3 cups of water approximately 2 - 3 hours before physical activity.
  • During:
    • Most people don't need anything other than water during exercise lasting less than 1 hour.
    • For sessions lasting 60 - 90 minutes or longer, drink 1/2 to 1 cup of water every 15 - 20 minutes.
    • Sports drinks may help you sustain your pace and replace lost glycogen and electrolytes.
    • If you are sweating profusely, consume fluids at the rate lost (not to exceed 1.5 liters or 1 1/2 canteens per hour) or as much as you can tolerate.
  • After:
    • Drink 2 - 3 cups of fluid for every pound lost during activity. As indicated above, drinking small amounts of fluid at a time is more effective than large amounts occasionally.
    • Drink until urine is clear or light yellow.
    • Avoid alcohol as a fluid replacement. If you do drink beer after activity, drink 1 - 2 cups of water or diluted juice at the same time to counter the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
    • Optimize glycogen refueling by consuming 50 - 100 grams of carbohydrate in your beverage or food within 30 minutes of exercise and every 2 - 4 hours thereafter. A complete balanced meal within 3 - 4 hours of activity will replace electrolytes.

Sports Drinks

When you are working continuously for longer than 60 - 90 minutes, especially in the heat, your glycogen levels start to dwindle if you are only drinking water. Sports drinks can have added performance benefits as they provide carbohydrates that help refuel glycogen stores and blood sugar levels. They also contain electrolytes like salt, which help you retain body water.

Alternatives to sports drinks:

  • Dilute any 100% fruit juice with an equal amount of water. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt per quart (four 8-oz cups). This mix closely approximates the carbohydrate, sodium, and potassium of commercially available sports drinks.
  • Mix 1/3 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt per quart (four 8-oz cups) of water. Flavor with unsweetened beverage base.

Energy Drinks - Think before you drink - limit the consumption of energy drinks!

These drinks should not be used for hydration. They generally contain large quantities of caffeine, and may contain other ingredients, most of which do absolutely nothing to enhance health.

  • Too much caffeine can aggravate dehydration and may lead to increased anxiety, upset stomach, shakiness, headaches, and sleep issues.

Eating in the Warrior Restaurants, Dining Facilities or Galleys  - Go for Green

Use the food identification system to find food to advance your performance. Look for the green, yellow, and red labels and pick foods identified as green and yellow while limiting those that are red.

High performance foods:

  • Premium fuel for the Service members
  • Fresh and flavorful
  • Nutrient dense
  • Go for Green: Choose frequently

Moderate performance foods:

  • Higher in calories
  • Lower in vitamins and minerals
  • Use Caution: Select less frequently

Performance-limiting foods:

  • Highest in calories
  • Lowest in vitamins and minerals
  • Warning: Limit intake