As a health and nutrition coach, people often ask me: What do I eat before I exercise to make sure I have enough energy to get through? What do I eat after my workout to recover? These are important questions, because what you’re eating could be sabotaging your workout results! A one-year Stanford University study of 350 men and women found that those who worked out three to five times a week for 30 – 40 minutes had NO significant weight loss! How can that be? It’s due to what, when and how people eat before and after their workouts. Filling up with the right fuel at the right times is essential to keeping your energy up, your workout performance high, and your body in fat-burning mode!
Top Tips for Fueling for Fitness
• Hydration is more important than you can imagine. Start drinking water as soon as you wake up. In the morning, you haven’t had water for six to eight hours and your cells need replenishing. Drink a full glass of water before you eat or drink anything else (coffee doesn’t count toward hydration). Plain hot water will actually penetrate the cells the fastest.
• Stay well-hydrated throughout the day. It won’t work to just start drinking water right before or during your workout. Hydration is an ongoing process. If you’re not drinking enough water, you will run out of energy – both mentally and physically.
• A daily goal is to drink half your weight in ounces of water each day. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 75 ounces a day – more in very hot weather or if you plan to have a rigorous workout. Hydrating regulates your body temperature, replaces water lost through sweat, and helps transport nutrients to your cells so you have energy. Did you know that most people are chronically dehydrated? Dehydration is a key reason for low energy, headaches, poor concentration, muscle cramps, and digestive issues. Take a moment to think about your day-to-day water intake; are you getting enough?
Avoid “Sports” Drinks
Contrary to popular belief (and advertising), Gatorade (or Vitamin Water or Propel or Powerade) is NOT a good hydrating choice, particularly if you want to maintain or lose weight. Why? These drinks contain high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, as well as other ingredients you want to avoid such as food dyes. High-fructose corn syrup, aka sugar, can make you hungrier by increasing your body’s hunger-regulating hormone (ghrelin) and lowering the hormone that tells you when you’re full (leptin). Artificial sweeteners have been shown to increase sugar cravings, and many contain unhealthy chemicals.
Instead, if you feel you need more than water after a heavy workout or in very hot weather, turn to “nature’s water” – coconut water. Choose only those brands that are 100% pure raw coconut water, with or without natural fruit – no sugar added! You can also add Chia seeds to your water for energy! Chia Seeds are known as running food. Chia was first cultivated by the ancient Aztecs who would go on marches for days, surviving only on chia, yet being able to sustain high energy levels. Chia seeds contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and copper. When you put them in water, they plump up and get very soft.
What to Eat Pre-Workout
As a general rule, you want to eat about half the calories you expect to burn during your upcoming workout. Eat 1 ½ to 2 hours pre-workout, and your meal should consist of:
• 60% GOOD carbs (about 40 grams) • 30% CLEAN, LEAN protein (10-15 grams) • 10% HEALTHY fat (less than 10 grams)
• Note that the percentages may vary based on the level and length of your workout.
Good carbs fuel muscles and enable peak performance. They also keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable during your workout.
Clean lean protein prevents the breakdown of muscle for fuel, and gives your muscles a head start on recovery after exercising.
Healthy fats help balance blood sugar and ensure that fat-soluble vitamins are delivered to your cells so your body can use them. Healthy fats also keep your joints lubricated and they slow digestion, allowing for sustained energy and longer workouts.
For Morning Exercisers, here are some examples of a pre-workout breakfast:
• Oatmeal (with no added sugar) topped with walnuts, berries and half a banana
• A protein shake (see recipe below)
• Food For Life Bread (toasted) with pure almond butter and one sliced fruit (banana, apple, strawberries, etc.)
For Afternoon or Evening Exercisers, here are some examples of a pre-workout lunch:
• Steamed vegetables with quinoa
• Brown rice with lean protein and vegetables
• Soup and salad
A balanced meal one to two hours before your workout might be all you need. But some people need a small snack about 30-45 minutes before a workout for an ENERGY BOOST. **Snack examples** include: a banana, a Smoothie (see recipe); a Larabar or Power Bites (see recipe) or other all-natural bar. **You want clean, fast-digesting carbohydrates,** little protein, very little fat, so the fuel is available during your workout. And all meals and snacks should be accompanied by water.
• If you work out first thing in the morning, you will want to have your snack before your workout and your breakfast meal after.
• The larger the meal/snack, or the more fat and protein it contains, the longer you will need to properly digest before exercising. If you consume too much food, or food high in fat, your muscles will focus on digesting that food instead of on your workout. That can cause stomach upset, muscle cramping and deplete your energy.
What to Eat POST-Workout
After your workout is a time for your muscles to rebuild, repair and recover. You should refuel within 15-30 minutes of your workout, and your post-workout snack should have more protein than carbs if you are strength training, and more carbs than protein for cardio exercise.
In the same way that I don’t recommend Gatorade’s ingredients, I steer clear of protein drinks such as Muscle Milk, Boost or Detour. Read the label and you’ll find sugar, additives and chemicals – not what you want to put in your healthy body! Instead, have a post-workout smoothie with plant protein. If you take the time to prepare for your workout – beginning with water in the morning and eating consciously throughout the day – you’ll find that you have the energy to exercise better and longer, and that helps you reach your goals!
Recipes will be posted shortly, there are some good ones up already for smoothies…