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Cardiovascular Training: Fueling Your Body for Optimal Performance

Updated: Apr 6

No one disputes the value of cardiovascular exercise. Medical experts have long touted its ability to protect heart function, reduce type 2 diabetes cases, and lessen depression.

A solid cardio program also helps prevent obesity while improving cognitive function and decreasing mortality. Cardio needs to be a priority in your life if you want to maintain good health. 

Exercising almost always benefits your body, but you will see greater benefits when you plan your food and drink consumption around your workouts. Cardiovascular fitness is easier to achieve and maintain when you get the proper nutrition before, during, and after exercising. 

Complex Carbohydrates  

Carbohydrates are a major energy source, but only complex carbs are good for cardiovascular training. Simple carbohydrates – such as juice, cookies, and many breakfast cereals – initially give you a burst of energy, but you will experience a sharp drop in your blood sugar that leaves you tired and drained shortly after eating. So, consuming a bowl of sugary breakfast flakes will adversely affect your morning workout.  

In contrast, complex carbohydrates – such as fruit, nuts, and whole wheat bread – contain healthy starch and fiber. They digest more slowly than simple carbs, so you avoid blood sugar spikes. You can better sustain your energy level when you consume healthy carbs before cardiovascular training.  


Proper hydration is another key to effective cardiovascular exercise. Failure to stay hydrated can cause dehydration, which might lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, muscle cramps, etc. A successful cardiovascular workout depends on your drinking enough water.  

Experts recommend drinking 17 - 20 ounces of water at least two hours before your workout. Then, you should drink 7  - 10 ounces of water for every 10 - 20 minutes that you exercise. Afterward, drink 16 - 24 ounces of water to replace weight loss due to sweating. That sounds like a lot of water, but athletes will tell you that it is necessary during cardio training.  

The amount of water needed will vary depending on your body type and physical condition. Make sure you drink the right amount of water to protect your internal organs, regulate your temperature, and help with digestion. 


Cardio exercise is vigorous and uses up energy already stored in your body. After a workout, you need to replenish that energy by giving your body nutrients. Research shows that eating high-protein foods within 15 minutes after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and build muscles. Protein shakes, chicken, salmon, protein bars, eggs, and Greek yogurt are good post-workout choices.  

A healthy diet includes consuming lean proteins throughout your day as well as after cardio.  

Eat Light  

Digestion plays a big role in the success of your workouts. After eating, it takes 2 - 4 hours for your food to digest completely. When you eat a heavy or even moderate meal too close to your workout, you risk developing some unpleasant side effects.

You may experience: 

  • Cramping 

  • Reflux 

  • Bloating 

  • Diarrhea 

  • Nausea 

  • Vomiting 

Any of these issues can end your exercise session. Even if you do not develop these symptoms, you will probably have low energy, which will limit your workout's effectiveness.  

To minimize this problem, do not eat a full meal within two hours of your cardiovascular exercise. Instead, eat a light snack and wait about 30 minutes to begin. Planning your food intake helps ensure a better, more comfortable workout.  

Replenish Electrolytes 

You have undoubtedly heard of electrolytes but may not know what they are. When dissolved in water, electrolytes have a positive or negative electrical charge. Since your body is approximately 60% water, it is full of these substances. They are essential to your physical health since they regulate chemical reactions and help balance your bodily fluids. 

During exercise, your body loses electrolytes. You expel them when you sweat, so replenishing them after exercise is essential. If your electrolyte level becomes too low, you can experience physical issues such as irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and muscle cramps. You can replace electrolytes by drinking certain popular sports drinks or mixing an electrolyte-replacement beverage at home.  

Fueling Your Cardiovascular Training 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise each week or 75 minutes of “vigorous” aerobic activity. Simply scheduling 30 minutes a day, five days a week, will improve your health. 

To maximize the benefits of this exercise, you need to fuel your body properly. Time your meal consumption to let your food digest. Also, consume complex carbohydrates for lasting energy and protein to repair and build muscle. Watch your hydration and electrolyte levels as well.  

Remember, proper nutrition plays a vital role in optimizing your cardiovascular training sessions and achieving your desired results. Visit the ActiveFit+ blog for more healthy lifestyle tips. 


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