Fueling Your Activity
Think of your body like a car; in order for it to run properly, it needs the proper fuel. Before you can leave on a road trip, you need to make sure your tank is full (pre-workout fuel). When you stop at the gas station, you generally have the option of a few different gas qualities – regular unleaded, premium, etc. High performance cars (like high-performance bodies) benefit from a higher quality fuel. Once you’re on the road, a full tank usually can take you pretty far. However, if you drive for too long your tank will run low and you will need to stop to refuel (intra-workout fuel). Finally, once you arrive at your destination you’ll want to fuel up one last time so the tank is full and the car is ready the next time you want to take it for a spin (post-workout fuel).
Your body functions the same way! In order to perform your best, you need to fuel before you workout, refuel after, and – depending on the duration – refuel during exercise.
Eating prior to exercise is important for a number of reasons. First, it will prevent hypoglycemia, a potentially dangerous drop in blood sugar. Hypoglycemia can cause light-headedness, fatigue, blurred vision, and some people may even pass out due to it. Pre-workout fuel helps your body maintain blood sugar levels and prevent these issues. Second, eating (the right food) before exercise can prevent stomach issues. Some people may experience stomachaches or heartburn during exercise. Eating prior to working out provides your stomach something to absorb the gastric juices and prevent these issues. It should be noted, however, that everyone responds differently to different foods prior to exercise so find what works best for you through gradual trial-and-error. Our suggestion? Try some granola or fruit before your next workout. Thirdly, eating before exercise provides the fuel your body needs to function at its best. Eating things high in carbohydrates, like fruit, provides the glucose and glycogen your body relies on to power your muscles. Many people think eating before exercise is counterproductive, as their whole goal of working out is to burn calories. In reality, eating prior to exercise will give you the necessary energy to exercise harder and actually burn more calories throughout the workout.
Everyone is different, but we recommend eating something light and high in carbohydrates prior to exercise. Fruit, grains, and granola are all great options. Things high in protein, like meat, should be saved until after the workout. Most people have negative reactions to consuming dairy products before exercise. Usually ~300 calories is all you need to successfully fuel before exercise.
Usually you should eat 30 to 60 minutes prior to exercise. This will give your body enough time to digest the food and convert it into the fuel your muscles need.
During Your Workout
During long duration activity – generally considered anything lasting longer than one hour – your body may start to run low on blood glucose and glycogen stores (the primary energy sources for exercise). When this occurs, your performance will suffer. To prevent this, we suggest consuming something very light to help maintain blood sugar levels and provide additional carbohydrates to fuel your activity.
Usually 100-250 calories of simple carbohydrates are all you need. Fruit, sport drinks, sport gels, and fruit juice are all great options. You want to pick something that is easy to digest and consists mostly of sugar.
Only during exercise that lasts longer than one hour, or if you are starting to feel lightheaded during any workout.
Post-workout nutrition is one of the most important aspects of your healthy diet and exercise lifestyle. During exercise, whether it is a grueling hour long run or an intense weightlifting workout, your body needs to utilize carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in order to fuel your activity. First, your body burns off carbohydrates from any food eaten earlier in the day. Then, carbohydrate stores in the form of muscle glycogen are burned and depleted in order to fuel further activity. Additionally, muscle proteins are broken down during exercise, especially with weight training. Post-workout nutrition serves the purpose of replenishing these energy stores, preventing the breakdown of your muscle proteins, and increasing the synthesis of new muscle protein, promoting recovery. Therefore, it is important to eat a large, whole-food based meal after your workout. If you cannot eat a full meal after exercise, don’t worry. A smoothie or shake with protein and carbohydrates, or even a glass of milk and some mixed nuts will do the trick.
Most people think you only need protein, and tons of it, after a workout. In reality, your body burns more carbohydrates during exercise than anything else. As such, you want to consume a meal with a 2-to-1 carb-to-protein ratio, meaning whatever you consume should have twice as many carbohydrates in it as protein. For most people, 20-30 grams of protein is enough after exercise, meaning the meal should also have 40-60 grams of carbohydrates. Eggs, lean meats like chicken or turkey, milk, fish, beef, Greek yogurt, or beans all are great sources of protein. As for carbohydrates, whole wheat bread or pasta, fruits, vegetables like sweet potatoes, beans, and milk all work great.
Also, don’t forget to hydrate! You lose a lot of water through sweating during exercise, especially in the heat. Aim to replace this water loss by drinking 1-3 glasses of water with your post-workout meal. By maximizing your intake of healthy carbohydrates, protein, and water after your workout, you better prepare your body for tomorrow’s exercise by replenishing energy stores, repairing and building muscle, preventing soreness, and increasing recovery from your workout. For more information and help with your daily nutrition and exercise plan, contact one of our health coaches today!
Ideally you should eat within ~45 minutes of finishing exercise, though anything within 2 hours of your workout generally works.