Do any of these situations sound familiar to you?
- You love an early morning workout, but hate for breakfast to slow you down. So, you skip it altogether. You figure you’ll eat after your run when your body tells you it’s hungry.
- You wolf down a sugary meal replacement bar, then senselessly sputter to a stop on the elliptical due to unexpected dizziness and fatigue.
- Although you’re building muscle with strength training every other day, you can’t burn off the spare tire around your waist. It can’t be your post-workout, fast-food chow downs, can it?
If you can personally relate to any of the scenarios above, take heart. Paying more attention and determining what to eat
before and after exercise can put you on the right path toward your fitness goals.
Consider When to Exercise
Experts advise that we put some time between eating and our next moderate or high-intensity exercise session. For starters, here are a few common sense guidelines:
- Wait three or more hours after a meal of 400 calories or more.
- Wait two or more hours after a smaller meal of about 300 to 400 calories.
- Wait between 45 minutes to an hour on the heels of a 200-or-so-calorie snack.
- Don’t wait at all if you just want to take a brisk walk.
Research What Carbs to Eat
If you like a complicated set of instructions, there is a lot of reading you can do when to eat carbs before and after exercise and which type of carbs you should eat. You can front-load and back-load carbs, to make your body switch to fat-burning mode the moment you start exercising. You can try Intermittent Fasting (IF), again with the goal of tricking your metabolism to maximize your workouts. The only trouble is, there is a lot of conflicting data about whether or not any one diet is more effective than another.
Then, there’s the fact that an ever-increasing number of Americans are overweight, in danger of developing Type II Diabetes, quit exercise routines more than start them, and therefore grapple with Fitness 101.
Indulge in Simple Snacks
Eat a light snack — of about 200 calories or so — and go exercise, would you? Common recommendations include: bananas and apples, yogurt, egg whites, some quinoa, and a little peanut or almond nut butter on whole wheat toast.
If you have insulin sensitivity, consult with your doctor and check out moderate and low glycemic (GI) index carbs. And, if you are not a whiz in the kitchen, there are plenty of ideas on the Internet about no-brainer quick fix bites everyone and your dog can whip up. Okay, maybe not the dog, but you get the idea.
Along with a light carb and protein snack, don’t forget to drink fluids. Water is best, or you can jazz it up with a wedge of lemon. Also, you can have that morning cup of coffee. A little caffeine gives you a nice little boost that’s always welcome at the start of a workout. Too much though, and it’s diuretic properties become instantly apparent. As for energy drinks? Their benefits and efficacy are highly-contested because of the other ingredients. Just a cup of Joe should do.
For Meal Skippers and the People Who Love Them
Skipping meals is a great way to run out of energy and throw your blood sugar levels out of whack. Light, sensible snacking before and after exercise is the sane way to go. Then, a few hours before or after exercise, make a healthy, moderate-size meal of about 400 calories or so.
If you have more than 400 calories on your plate and you’re worried about it, just eat until you’re satisfied, not full. You can always have the rest later. Don’t feel compelled to constantly clean your plate. Your Mom isn’t watching. Well, I don’t think she is, anyway.
Don’t Eat These Food Before Your Workout
Stay away from foods that take time to digest, such as:
- Protein-packed food with a higher fat content such as meat or cheese
- Sweet foods and beverages
- Certain high-fiber foods like beans and nuts, common culprits of stomach upset.
As before, skipping a snack after your workout is not a smart move. Your body needs a mixture of protein and carbs for the recovery of tissue and muscle that break down during exercise. Skipping a snack here can easily result in ravenous hunger later — which lead to overeating later. It is also equally foolish to overindulge yourself, thus undoing much of the hard work you’ve just done.
Do Eat These Foods After Your Workout
Healthy post-exercise snacks —— again around the 250 to 300-calorie range — include:
- sweet potatoes
- a boiled egg or two
- yogurt and berries
- hummus and pita
- lean sources of protein such as chicken and fish
- some protein powder and milk
There are differing opinions about how soon after a workout one should eat. This is very much a concern of bodybuilders who feel a snack 30 minutes after a workout leads to optimal muscle repair. Other experts are a little more flexible with the best time window.
What About Extra Protein?
If you get protein from food sources such as meat and fish, there is no need to chug-a-lug a gallon of protein shakes every day. In fact, you could be doing yourself harm.
The body has a limit to how much protein it needs and can therefore digest and use at one time. There truly is wisdom in moderation. Plus, regular folks can get enough protein from food.
Exercise Your Judgment
There are certain foods, beverages and behaviors you need to avoid.
- Make sure your whole grain or whole wheat bread isn’t full of refined flour with just a small percentage of grains.
- Energy bars of lesser quality can be found mixed in with healthier options. Here’s the skinny on these. Read their ingredients. Many contain a lot of sugar, as well as a slew of words you expect from a sci-fi movie, not lunch. Instead, run — don’t walk — to the nearest fruit stand and buy a banana. Your body will thank you.
- Decline beverages with added sugar, which includes just about every beverage on the market. Also, don’t be taken in by a smooth-talking smoothie. We don’t need a daily smoothie-size portion of fruit because fruit has fructose which is a naturally-occurring sugar that is also bad for you in excessive amounts.
- Protein-powders have flooded the market. Some are probably fine. Some are very expensive. Again, as mentioned before, most regular folks can get enough protein from food.
- Energy gels, popular with endurance athletes, can also pack on the pounds because many contain sugar. Again, athletes, and pretty much everyone else, can get what they need from real food.
- Avoid foods you don’t normally eat, especially before exercise, because you don’t know how your system will handle it.
Remember Healthy Exercise and Eating Basics
Here’s a quick recap of top points to remember:
- Drink water. Dehydration slows down your metabolism, which can counteract your efforts.
- If you ate a bigger meal recently, wait at least two hours before working out.
- If you’re hungry on your way to the gym, grab a pre-workout snack that’s somewhere around 250 calories.
- Eat a post-workout snack about an hour or so after a workout to speed muscle and tissue recovery.
- Don’t overdo it on the fruit. Fruit has fructose. Fructose is sugar.
Perhaps most importantly, if you’re new to the idea of portion control, opt for two smaller meals during the day of about 400 calories each. Then, don’t forget to snack. This gives you a steady source of fuel for exercise and stable blood sugar levels. Exercising hungry is a sure way to decrease the efficiency of your workout!