Food for an Active Lifestyle

Active or sedentary, we all need a diet that provides adequate quantities of the nutrients needed for the growth, maintenance and repair of tissues. However, before vigorous or prolonged activity, we want to be full of energy. Here are the how-to’s for the diet of an active person.

More Carbohydrates

First requirement: Adequate carbohydrate intake to maintain blood sugar at optimal levels when practising a physical activity. A portion of the carbohydrates consumed is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. During intense, prolonged exertion, this glycogen is the main source of energy for the muscles, but these stores are limited. A high-carb diet will maintain energy at a high level.

Pre-Exercise Meals

At least two hours before carrying out moderate physical activity for more than 60 minutes, eat a meal containing a bit of protein, but especially rich in carbohydrates, which do not cause a quick spike in blood sugar (pasta, baked beans, lentils, yogurt, roasted peanuts, brown rice, skim milk, etc.). This ensures that you have regular and sustained sugar levels. If you cannot have a full meal, less than one hour before you exercise, eat a high-carb snack that will quickly increase blood sugar (bowl of instant rice, white bread, crackers, fresh fruit, a muffin, raisins, a bowl of cereal with a little bit of 1% or 2% milk, etc.).  

Post-Exercise Meals

If you are slightly or moderately active, the meal following your activity does not have to be changed. However, if you do vigorous and prolonged activities almost every day, it is best to quickly renew your glycogen stores by taking in about 50 g of carbohydrates (see table) as soon as possible after exercising. Over the next meals, you could slightly increase your carbohydrate intake. Note that high-calibre athletes sometimes also use a special diet known as “glycogen overloading”. You will find more information on this subject on the Canadian Trainer Association website at

Examples of portions containing approximately 50 g of carbohydrates

  • 375 ml of fruit juice (orange, grapefruit, apple, mixed fruit)
  • 250 ml of grape juice
  • 625 ml of 1% or 2% milk
  • 3 1/2 slices of bread
  • 2 pieces of pita bread
  • 125 ml of rice pudding with raisins
  • 500 ml of rice cereal
  • 375 ml of cooked pasta
  • 250 ml of cooked rice
  • 2 large apples
  • 8 dates
  • 2 pears

125 ml = 1/2 cup; 250 ml = 1 cup

Proteins and Fats

If you are very active, nutritionists recommend that you increase your daily protein intake a bit by eating more protein-rich foods (meat, fish, shellfish, legumes, tofu, soy milk, etc.). As for fats, there is no need to add more, but you should choose good fats, rich in fat-soluble vitamins, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (natural vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, fish oils). Limit any animal saturated fats and trans-fats (hydrogenated), which are unhealthy for cardiovascular health.

Water, Please!

Lastly, anyone who is physically active must drink enough water to remain well hydrated.

Before — Drink 400 ml to 600 ml of water two to three hours before moderate to high intensity exercise.

During — If exertion lasts longer than 30 minutes, drink smaller quantities of water (between 150 ml and 350 ml) every 15 or 20 minutes. If the exertion lasts longer than one hour, a commercial or homemade energy drink containing a bit of salt and 4 g to 8 g of carbohydrates per 100 ml of the drink will help prevent a drop in energy.

After — Estimate how much you lose by weighing yourself before and after an exercise session. If you have lost 500 g, that corresponds to approximately 500 ml of water. When your urine becomes clear, you know you are well hydrated.