Whether you are working out to lose weight or simply to stay in shape, what you eat before, during and after your workout is very important.
Before you work out it is a good idea to fuel your body with carbohydrates as a quick source of energy.
During exercise, hydration is important and, after you finish your workout, your body will need to refuel.
In order to get the most out of your workout, take the time to learn the basics of what your body needs, how it utilizes energy and how you can provide your body with that energy.
If you can learn these things you will be able to make your workouts more effective than ever.
Before a Workout
Before engaging in strenuous activity, it is important to fuel your body with a source of energy. To provide your body with the energy it needs you will need to eat a meal or snack that contains carbohydrates, healthy fats, lean protein and fluids (ideally water).
Foods like bread, pasta, cereal, rice and vegetables are a good source of carbohydrate that can be used as a quick energy source just before a workout. Lean protein is important for helping your body to build muscle and to produce healthy blood cells – during your workout, those blood cells will be put to work delivering oxygen to your muscles.
In order to get the most out of your pre-workout meal you should eat a meal that contains moderate levels of protein and carbohydrate, low levels of fat, low levels of fiber and some liquid. Stick with something your body is used to like a grilled chicken sandwich rather than fried fast food and a soft drink.
The Importance of Hydration
Hydration is incredibly important for exercise, both before and after the fact as well as during the workout itself. As your body works, you will be sweating – water is the body’s cooling system and, without it, your body could easily overheat.
In order to ensure that you are properly hydrated for your workout you should drink at least 16 ounces of water about two hours before you exercise. To ensure maximum hydration, weigh yourself before you exercise and again after your workout – drink 16 ounces of water for every pound lost during the workout (this will be water weight).
When it comes to hydration during and after a workout you may be wondering whether it is better to go with water or a sports drink. If you plan to exercise for more than 60 minutes at a time, or if you are working out in hot or humid conditions, you may want to opt for a sports drink.
Sports drinks provide you not only with fluid but also the carbohydrate and sodium your body needs to rehydrate. If you are only doing recreational exercise, plain water should be sufficient.
Eating/Drinking Protein After Exercise
If building muscle is your goal, it will be especially important for you to consume a significant amount of protein immediately after exercising. While eating a high-protein diet in general will help you to gain muscle, after exercise is when that protein will be most beneficial.
Protein is what your muscles need in order to recover from the workout and to grow – after a workout is the optimal time to deliver that protein. Ideally, you should consume at least 10 to 20 grams of protein after a rigorous workout or bout of weight training to provide your muscles with the protein they need to grow and recover.
Where to Get Protein
After a workout, your body doesn’t care where the protein comes from as long as it gets it. Many athletes and body builders opt for protein shakes which are designed to deliver the ideal balance of protein and carbohydrates to your post-workout body.
If you don’t like protein shakes, eating a few hardboiled eggs or downing a glass of chocolate milk will serve the same purpose. If you do opt for a protein shake, look for a product that is made from either whey protein or milk proteins. Drink the shake within 30 minutes after exercising to get the most benefit.
Carbohydrate Plus Protein
Consuming some kind of carbohydrate in conjunction with protein within 15 to 30 minutes after exercise has been shown to speed recovery. As you exercise, your body uses carbohydrate (or glycogen) for energy.
After an intense workout you need to consume enough carbohydrate to produce a substantial insulin release in order to encourage glycogen storage and protein repair. The ideal amount of carbohydrate to consume after a workout is between 0.8 and 1.2 grams per 1 kilogram of bodyweight.
Unless you engaged in a particularly long or strenuous workout, 1.2 grams per kilogram of carbohydrate may be excessive and the extra could be stored as body fat. In combination with carbohydrate, experts recommend the consumption of between 0.2 and 0.4 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight after a workout.
Best Foods to Eat
Stir-Fry = Chicken or shrimp stir-fry is an excellent post-workout meal because it provides the ideal proportion of carbohydrate to protein without a high fat content. Load up your stir-fry with fresh vegetables and rice to provide your body with the carbohydrates it needs to refuel.
Hummus = Not only is hummus a tasty snack, but it is also high in protein and carbohydrates. This is an especially good option for individuals who do not eat meat because hummus is completely vegetarian. Check your local grocery store for flavored hummus or make your own at home and serve it with whole-wheat pita or sliced veggies.
Bagel with Peanut Butter = A whole wheat bagel is a great source of complex carbohydrates while peanut butter provides a number of essential minerals. If you are looking for a low-fat option, switch to almond butter rather than peanut butter. Almond butter contains monosaturated fats as well as potassium which will help with electrolyte balance.
Tuna and Crackers = This option is a great solution for individuals on the go. Tuna is low in fat but high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids while crackers provide plenty of carbohydrates. Rather than going with prepared tuna salad that may be heavy on the mayonnaise, whip up your own tuna salad using a little olive oil, lemon juice and mustard for flavor.
Seafood and Mashed Potatoes = Seafood is known for its high protein and omega-3 fatty acid content which makes it something of a super food. Paired with carb-rich mashed potatoes, fish is a great post-workout meal. To switch things up once in a while, try substituting a baked sweet potato for the mashed potato.
Cereal and Milk = While you should generally steer clear of sugary cereals like Lucky Charms, a good whole-grain cereal with skim milk makes a great post workout snack. Whole-grain cereal is an excellent source of fiber and carbohydrate while the milk will provide you with easily digestible protein.
Egg White Omelet == Eggs are an excellent source of protein but whole eggs are also fairly high in cholesterol. In order to get the benefit of the protein from eggs without the fat, make yourself an egg white omelet after a workout. Fill the omelet with fresh veggies like spinach which has been shown to speed muscle growth.
Protein Fruit Smoothie = Even if you don’t purchase a post-workout drink mix you can still whip up something yourself. A fruit smoothie with a scoop of whey protein is a delicious way to provide your body with the carbohydrate and protein it needs to refuel after an intense workout. For the fruit, go for bananas or mango and, for the protein, choose whey protein, Greek yogurt or skim milk.
Chocolate Milk = Because chocolate milk is fairly high in calories, it is not something you should consume in large quantities on a regular basis. Immediately after a workout, however, it is a great choice. Chocolate milk drinks that have been formulated for post-workout recovery provide the optimal blend of carbohydrates and protein that your body needs to recover.
Engaging in regular exercise and strength training is important to keep your body fit and healthy. If you do not know what to eat before, during and after your workout, however, you may not get the full benefit of that exercise.
To ensure that your muscles recover properly and grow from all of your hard work you need to provide your body with the optimal balance of carbohydrate and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.