Food As Fuel: What to Eat Before, During, and After Working Out
Mar 15, 2021
As most of us know by this point, nutrition is a crucial part of exercise. No matter your goal, whether you’re looking to lose weight, gain muscle, run faster, lift more…. Nutrition plays an important role.
The most important parts of any nutrition program, of course, is what and how much you’re eating. Are you getting a good balance of healthy proteins, carbohydrates, and fats? Are you eating enough of each without eating too many calories? Are your carbohydrates, for example, healthy veggies and fruits, or are they sugary donuts and processed sweets? It all makes a difference.
Another important part of a good nutrition plan is timing. You’ve probably heard of “grazing,” and how it’s not the best for you. Snacking consistently throughout the day causes our body to never have to use it’s stored fat, it instead uses the food we just ate. But if we wait too long between meals, our body goes into “starvation mode,” causing our metabolism to slow.
When we exercise, we require more from our body than we do at rest. Therefore, we require more calories and energy before, during, and after exercise. So when, and what, should we eat for an optimal workout?
While we want to be fueled and ready to go, we don’t want to start our workout with a full stomach. Wait at least an hour or two after a large meal to exercise. This is especially important for cardiovascular or plyometric activity such as running, swimming, or HIIT. This is less important for weight lifting - you probably won’t get painful cramps, but you probably won’t have a great workout either. Make sure your meal isn’t too heavy - be mindful of fatty proteins and dairy. Carbohydrates for energy, protein for muscle growth, and healthy fats to keep you full are important. If you mis-timed your day and need to eat closer to your workout time, stick to fast carbohydrates like fruit. They will give you energy without slowing you down.
For most exercise, you won’t need to eat anything during your workout. Exceptions would be for workouts longer than an hour such as a marathon or very long bike ride, where quick carbohydrate sources can help you go for longer. Energy bars are usually used here because of their convenience. Fruit, such as a banana, is also a good choice. Some weight lifters like to use supplements in their water during a workout such as BCAAs or glutamine. In general, though, you won’t need anything aside from water.
What you eat after varies based on the type of exercise you just did. If you did cardiovascular exercise you want to make sure you eat a healthy well balanced meal within a couple hours, sooner if the exercise was long or very vigorous. If you did any type of resistance work, you want to eat as soon as possible (taking time to shower and change is ok, it doesn’t have to be immediate!) and make sure your meal is protein rich. Some people choose to have a protein shake or bar in their workout bag to snack on on the way home, then eat a smaller snack. Some wait to have a meal instead. Either is fine! What’s important is replenishing your protein stores so that your muscles can rebuild. Every time we do resistance work, we form tiny tiny tears in our muscles. After our workout, our body has to spend time and energy (calories!) fixing those tears. That’s how our muscle grows! So if we don’t eat our protein our muscles have nothing to “eat” and they don’t grow stronger.
Reading though the information above, hopefully you thought up some meal and snack ideas you can use for before and after your workouts. If you have trouble coming up with some ideas, reach out! We’d love to help you get on the right track.