Food for Exercise - What to Eat Before, During and After Workout
How To Eat Right for Your Health Fitness Goals
If you know how to eat right and follow a well-planned fitness program, you will burn fat, build muscles and improve your cardiovascular health.
Eating the right food for exercise depends on your health fitness goals. Is it to lose weight, to lower cholesterol level, to build muscle and strength, or just want to improve your general well-being?
The intensity of your exercise and the time you spent exercising will also decide on how often you should eat and drink. Some exercise needs more energy, like cross-country cycling.
Fitness Goal & The Right Food For Exercise
Irrespective of your goal, the following guidelines will meet most of your health fitness goals. Follow them, and you will benefit greatly.
1. Set Fitness Goals
Setting your fitness goal is the most important step to a healthier lifestyle. Decide if you want to lose body fat, lower your high blood pressure or to build muscle and endurance.
2. Importance Of Staying Hydrated
Water helps to regulate the body temperature and when you exercise, it helps to cushion joints. This is important as you lose water through sweating when you exercise. So, drink lots of water before, during and after your exercise.
Drink only plain water or mineral water as it has no calories. But with mineral water, it helps replaces sodium and potassium that you lose through sweating.
Some people prefer to take a sports drink. This is high in calories and some brands have high levels of sodium, so choose wisely.
Energy drink is not a healthy drink either as it has a high level of caffeine and other stimulants. Your body doesn't need them, so it's wise not to take an energy drink. If you need that 'pick me up' drink, a sports drink is a better choice.
If you are a coffee or tea drinker, try green tea instead. Catechins, an ingredient that is present in green tea are powerful antioxidants that are known to increase your metabolic rate. This is good to burn off those excess fats!
You can check if you are properly hydrated from the color of your urine, which should be pale yellow.
NOTE: Difference Between Sports Drink And Energy Drink
Energy drink contains stimulants, caffeine, and sugar to give a temporary boost to performance. Sports drink contain no stimulants, only carbohydrate, and salts to replace what was lost in sweat. Examples of energy drinks are Red Bull, Rockstar, and Mountain Dew. Examples of sports drinks are Accelerade, Gatorade, and 100plus.
3. Food For Exercise
What To Eat BEFORE Exercise
If you exercise in the morning, good breakfast in a hurry will be two slices of whole-grain bread with peanut butter or raw almonds or bananas.
You need energy for exercise so it is important that you eat something. It will prevent a drop in blood sugar levels, which can make you feel listless or giddy when you work out.
The following type of food to eat before exercise is easy on your digestive system and hence, will reserve some energies for your workout:
- Juiced or Blended Foods - These are 'pre-digested food' so less effort is required during digestion.
- Food With Easy-to-Digest Carbohydrates - These include sweet potatoes, yam, white potatoes, taro and rice
- Proteins That Are Easy to Digest - Eggs, steaks, cheese, and bacon take a longer time for the digestive system to work on. Instead, drink hydrolyzed whey protein.
- Fats That Are Easy to Digest - Example is the MTC oil that bypasses the digestive process and gets absorbed directly into the liver to produce a quick source of energy (e.g. coconut oil and palm oil)
- Less Caffeine Intake - Although caffeine is good to boost your workout, too much caffeine will put extra stress on the adrenal glands. This can lead to fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, and even depression. As a guide, a small cup of strong coffee is more than sufficient to increase endurance and improve your workout performance.
When To Eat Before Exercise
Eat one hour before exercise for a small snack. For small meals, eat two to three hours before you exercise, and for large meals, exercise only after three to four hours of eating.
What To Eat DURING Exercise
If you do more than one hour of exercise and need to take snacks in between, raw almonds or bananas are the best choices as both contain protein and carbohydrates. These are essential for muscle building, and energy. Or you can have other fruits such as raspberries that are rich in iron and vitamins. Energy bars are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and the protein is of lower quality. It is not a good choice but if you insist then get an energy bar with whey protein.
Do You Work Out On an Empty Stomach?
What to Eat AFTER Exercise
After your workout, meals with both protein and carbohydrates such as turkey or egg sandwiches on whole wheat bread, or raw almonds, banana, and low-fat chocolate milk are recommended. I prefer raw almond and low-fat chocolate milk for the protein, carbohydrate, and key electrolytes content.
You must eat within two hours of your exercise to help muscle recovery and to replace glycogen lost during exercise. (Glycogen, from carbohydrates, is a source of energy used for any short, intense bouts of exercise).
4. Protein for Exercise
When you are in a fitness program, additional protein is essential for muscle building and to repair any muscle fibers damaged during a workout. Eat lean protein such as chicken and fish. A low-fat dairy product such as low-fat chocolate milk, and Quinoa, the gluten-free grain are also good choices.
5. Importance of Carbohydrates for Exercise
Carbohydrates will give energy to your workout and promote recovery after a workout. It provides glycogen needed for most exercises, which is easy and immediately available.
If there's not enough carbohydrate, protein in your body will be used as an energy source. This is not recommended as the by-product is tough on your kidney.
Take complex carbohydrates such as whole grain bread, taro, rice, sweet potatoes, and grains.
6. Good Fats In Diet
You need good fats in your diet for energy. But it must not be taken just before or during a workout except for MTC oil. Unsaturated fats present in avocado, olives, nuts, peanut butter, and fish are good sources of healthy fats for your diet.
7. Raw Foods in Diet
Include raw foods in your diet as it has enzymes and oxygen that help muscles to function better during your exercise.
8. Food with Fibers
Fiber will aid your digestion and make you feel fuller. The best time to take fiber is in the morning. So, go for a healthy fiber-rich breakfast like grapefruit and oats.
9. Healthy Snacks for Exercise?
Include healthy snacks to take care of your hunger pangs. So, carry with you raw almonds, fruits or even popcorn that is 'popped' without sugar but with a dash of salt, pepper and maybe a mist of olive oil.
10. Limit Alcohol, Cigarettes and Junk Food
To stay motivated and to continue on your fitness program is important. So, be realistic and continue to enjoy your alcohol, cigarettes and junk food consumption but on weekends only.
Food for Exercise Journal
You need good food for exercise so don't starve yourself as this is not healthy. Your body needs all the energies to fuel your fitness program.
Everyone is different and knows their own strengths and weaknesses. As you move on with your fitness program, you will realize that some of the before and after exercise food will either works or doesn't for you. Listen to your body, use your own judgment and adjust them accordingly.
To help with this task, keep a 'Food for Exercise Journal' to monitor your progress and what type of food works for you.
Good luck and stay fit.
Eating Before and After a Workout
- The American Council on Exercise - Healthy Hydration
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition - Exercising Before Protein Intake
- US National Library of Medicine - Protein for Exercise and Recovery
- US National Library of Medicine - Carbohydrate and Exercise
- US National Library of Medicine - Role of Fats in Exercise
"This article is written for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate fitness and health professionals on any matter relating to their fitness, health and well-being."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Mazlan