A guide to fuelling your fitness

In the noisy nutrition space, it is important that we use accurate, evidence based nutritional information to guide our fitness goals which is why Coles has engaged Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) for advice. SDA is the association for sports nutrition experts in Australia and this is what they had to say.

Group fitness class

Eating a balanced diet, regular physical activity, staying hydrated, and good quality sleep are the foundations for living and performing at your best. They are also highly connected, with each factor impacting your ability to achieve the others. This is particularly relevant to food, fitness and fuelling your performance.

Whatever your reason for exercising – be it general health and wellbeing, feeling fitter, building muscle or safe and sustainable weight loss – there are three important factors to consider at each eating occasion:

1.    What you are eating

2.    When you are eating it

3.    How you distribute key nutrients across the day

1.    The What

Each of us is unique, which makes our fuel requirements highly personalised. Exactly what you should consume depends on factors like age, gender, lifestyle, and importantly, your health, wellbeing and performance goals. Each of these factors have an impact on how you should balance your macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates and fat) and micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) intake for your body to function at its best.

It can be tempting to choose quick fixes like detoxes and cleanses but it’s important to take a food-first approach when fuelling your fitness goals.

Here are some nutrition basics to target at each meal:

a)   Protein

It has been well researched that for optimal muscle building, known as protein synthesis, you want each meal or snack to contain at least 20 grams of good quality protein. Depending on your goals, you may require more than this, but 20 grams is a great start. 20 grams of good quality protein looks like:

·       Cup of Greek yoghurt / tofu / cottage cheese

·       80-90 grams of chicken / beef

A close up shot of chicken

b)   Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the most variable in terms of the quantity required. Essentially, more carbohydrates are required when intensity and/or duration of exercise are increased. While performance and body composition goals are of course important, you need to protect your fuelling and recovery. A simple approach is to ‘fuel for the work you are going to do’, meaning if your exercise session will be long and/or intense, you should fuel up with more carbohydrates than a lighter session. Post exercise always optimise the refuel with some carbohydrates and good quality protein. Some good quality carbohydrates are sweet potato and wholemeal bread.

Sourdough bread on a chopping board

c)   Vegetables (with a focus on colour)

Only 8% of Australians are meeting the recommended vegetable intake of five serves per day (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018). Colourful vegetables are particularly important for the variety of micronutrients they offer. If possible, try to include vegetables in every meal or snack. It’s easier than you may think, some examples of how you might do this are:

·       Spinach and avocado with your eggs on toast

·       Sliced tomatoes on your cheese & crackers

·       A variety of extra vegetables in your salad or sandwich

·       Opting for readymade meals that are packed with veggies

A basket of fruit and vegetables

d)   Fibre

According to the current Australian Nutrient Reference Values (NRVS) the recommend intake of fibre for an adult is 25-30 grams per day (Australian Government 2006), yet many Australians are failing to meet these amounts. Fibre is essential for good health but is often overlooked. It has major benefits for gut health and digestion, as well as flow on effects for mental health, heart health, and so much more. Ways you can add fibre and nutrition to your healthy eating plan include:

·       Additional fruit and vegetables

·       Wholegrain cereals

·       Legumes 


A spiced chickpea salad

2.   The When

The timing of when you fuel your body can be a game-changer for achieving your health, wellbeing and fitness goals. You may be consuming what your body needs, but the timing may not be optimal. The time you exercise, the type of exercise you do and what you are trying to achieve will impact the best timing for your meals, so here are some basics to consider.

Do I need to eat before I train?

It really depends on your goals and the type of exercise you do.

There’s a simple formula for fuelling for exercise: the longer the session and/or higher the intensity of the session – the more fuel (energy) is required. If you’re exercising for 60 minutes or less, eating before a session may not be required, unless you are wanting to optimise performance, physical output or gain lean muscle.

For example:

·       If you’re aiming to build muscle, you should be fuelling before exercise, irrespective of time of day 

·       If you’re exercising for performance outcomes, like wanting to get fitter, faster, or stronger then you should also be consuming something before training

It’s recommended that you eat a snack 1-2 hours before a session and the main component of it should be carbohydrates. This could be a piece of fruit or a slice of good quality sourdough with a spread.

·       If the goal is to reduce weight or lose body fat, your energy intake needs to be less than what you’re using, but the meal or snack pre or post exercise should be a non-negotiable time for meeting your nutrition needs.

Do you need to eat or drink post exercise?


Eating in the 30-60 minutes following exercise is important to optimise recovery.

If you’re exercising twice a day, or have the goal of building lean body mass, try to eat post exercise as soon as possible, and ideally aim to eat or drink within the hour immediately post exercise. 

While the post training meal or snack is important, consistency in your nutrition practices is key – particularly when it comes to protein. Consistency means both the frequency of your meals, as well as the amount of protein consumed. Having consistent amounts of protein, of at least 15-20 grams, more frequently across the day, is more ideal than different amounts irregularly which is what we often see with a traditional western diet. Overall, having a source of high-quality protein and carbohydrates in the 30-60 minutes following exercise is recommended, as well as regular intake of protein across the day.

If you’re aiming to maintain your weight but change body composition, you need to be in energy balance and consuming the same amount of energy as you use, however if you are aiming to gain lean body mass, you need to be in energy surplus.

An individual’s energy budget needs to consider age, gender, training and goals, and is best done in consultation with an Accredited Sports Dietitian to ensure adequacy is met.

3.   The How

One of the biggest issue’s dietitians hear from clients – whether they be footy players or general gym-goers – is how to implement all this information into their everyday routines and habits. We know it can be a challenge, but one way to make it easier is with planned meal preparation, whether that’s done by you or outsourced to someone else!

To help take the guess work out of what to eat for your goals and remove the barrier of preparation for those who may be time-poor, Coles have created a range of frozen performance meals, called Coles PerForm which help to achieve different goals:  

Build* Range

For those who need a lot of energy, those aiming to build lean body mass or following a high intensity training session. These meals contain:

·       32g or more of protein,

·       One or more serves of vegetables,

·       More than 50 grams of carbohydrates; and

·       More than 6.5 grams of fibre.


Balanced* Range

Ideal for those aiming to maintain weight or who have completed a low to moderate intensity training session. Also great as a snack option for someone who has a high energy budget or aiming to gain lean body mass.

·       Contains more than 30 grams of protein,

·       1.5 or more serves of vegetables,

·       Less than 50 grams of carbohydrate; and

·       More than 9 grams of fibre.

Balance Range 

Lean* Range

Great for those on a low energy budget, after a low intensity exercise session, or as a balanced snack option for those regularly exercising. These meals contain:

·       More than 25 grams of protein,

·       Two or more serves of vegetables,

·       Less than 30 grams of carbohydrate; and

·       9 grams of fibre or more. 

Lean Range 

*some meals in each range-contain added pea protein. Athletes subject to anti-doping protocols should be mindful about consumption.

All varieties not available in all stores

In all instances, for advice and guidance on how to eat for performance that considers your own individual needs and goals, we recommend you consult with an Accredited Sports Dietitian.

This article has been written in association with Sports Dietitians Australia. For more information, please visit the Sports Dietitians Australia website.

Please note: the information herein does not negate personal responsibility on the part of the reader for their own health and safety.  Individual tailored advice is recommended to be sought from your medical practitioner or Accredited Sports Dietitian. 


Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2015. 4364.00.55.001 – National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. Published 2018. Accessed January 2021

Australian Government. Dietary Fibre – Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. 2006. Last updated 2020. Accessed February 2021 

Shop all Coles PerForm frozen meals