When you eat and what you eat around your workout could be the missing piece to get the most out of your exercise.
The right amount of food and drink should be consumed before, during and after exercise to help maintain your blood sugar levels, maximize performance, and improve recovery time. If you’re an overall healthy person who exercises regularly, these tips can help you plan what to eat and drink to maximize your workout.
First up, fuel up before exercise
– Aim to eat at least 1-2 hours before your workout so you can begin training without a lot of food in your gut. Avoid a high-fat meal as fats can be difficult to digest.
– If you only have 5-10 minutes before you exercise, eat a piece of fruit such as an apple or banana. Right before a workout, the key is to consume easily digested carbohydrates, so you don’t feel sluggish.
– Protein before exercise can help maintain or even increase your muscle size and prevent muscle damage. Your pre-workout meal should also include complex carbohydrates (grains, beans, fruits or vegetables) to give you energy.
– Your pre-workout choices can be protein powder with milk, an egg white omelet with whole-grain toast, or plain Greek yogurt with fruit. Depending on how much time you have to eat before your workout, plan the size and composition of your meal/snack to avoid using your workout to digest food.
– Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred fuel source.
– If you’re going to be hitting it hard at cardio or high-intensity training for an hour, choose complex carbs like steel-cut oats or sweet potatoes to provide a slow-release of sugars throughout your workout. Most people can benefit from 30-40 grams of carbs before they train.
– Can you workout on an empty stomach? Absolutely. A recent study found if you exercise without a pre-workout snack, you burn off body fat instead of fuel from food.
– If you want to exercise in a fasted state and see more favourable changes in your body fat composition, your last bite of food should be 4 hours before exercise or you can exercise in the morning before breakfast.
Stay hydrated during exercise
– You don’t need to eat during a workout that’s an hour or less, especially if you’ve hit your pre-workout nutrition needs. Just remember to drink lots of water!
– But, for longer, high-intensity vigorous workouts, have a small, high-carb snack that’s 50-100 calories every half hour. Try low-fat yogurt, raisins, or a banana.
– If you’re exercising in the heat, sweating a lot or competing in a high-intensity sports event, sports drinks may be useful for electrolytes to help speed hydration and recovery.
Recovery after exercise
Recovery time is crucial and the window of opportunity depends on the type of exercise.
– The window to refuel is up to 2 hours in strength training.
– A protein shake or protein-rich meal within 2 hours will give your body what it needs to build lean muscle. Carbohydrates help replenish your glycogen stores and prevent muscle soreness.
– If you’re drinking a protein shake, pair it with a banana. If you’re eating a meal, choose a source of protein (poultry, meat, tofu) and a serving size based on your needs, and pair it with a salad. There’s no real evidence that protein powders are any better or worse than whole food protein after training, so choose what’s easiest for you.
– You can refuel up to 30 minutes after exercise to replenish your energy stores. In the 30 minutes after your workout, your muscles can store carbohydrates as energy and help in recovery.
– Hydration is a major goal – drink plain water. Only athletes may need extra electrolytes from a sports drink.
– If you’re having a snack, choose a fruit such as a banana or apple and pair it with a nut butter or a handful of nuts. For a meal, make it rich in whole-grains, veggies and fruit. Avoid refined carbs that spike your blood sugar, as this affects your muscle building potential. Instead, choose minimally processed whole food carbohydrates, along with some fruit to better restore or maintain liver glycogen equally over a 24-hour time period, and improve next-day performance.
– If you trained in a fasted state, try to eat as soon as you can after your workout. But if you ate a normal sized mixed meal a couple of hours before training (or a small shake closer to training), then you have the regular window of opportunity after training to eat your post-workout meal and still maximize the benefits of your workout.
What you put in your body (nutrition) is as important as you what you do with your body (exercise) to keep it performing at its best. Have a question about workout nutrition? Comment below or send me a message.