Most people look at food as the enemy or the reason they are not where they would like to be in their “skin”, however foods provide the gas to the body’s engine, and fluids provide the water to your body’s radiator. Without these crucial fuels and fluids, your body will have a hard time performing at its best. You cannot eat the same foods in the same way it took to get your body in the shape it is and expect it to transform in the journey towards changing your looks. Your diet has to change! Nutrition comprises more components than just what and how much you eat, it also includes when you eat.
Starving yourself to lose weight is also a big misconception, and is never a good idea. Eat small, frequent meals (inclusive of healthy snacks) four to six times a day. By starving yourself before exercising can actually be detrimental to your body and is just a fitness myth. If you wake up and do a light cardio, then fasting is ok, but if you are going to do a vigorous workout, you need fuel! Fueling exercise properly requires quality carbohydrates, lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and fluids. Your muscles rely on carbohydrate and vegetables for a quick energy source and it is very important to eat the right amounts in the correct frequency if you want to see results.
Just before you exercise, the last thing you want to do is put a bunch of proteins and fats into your body, even if they’re healthy proteins and fats. These types of fuels take a long time to digest and draw precious oxygen and energy-delivering blood into your stomach and away from your exercising muscles. They also carry a greater risk of giving you a stomachache during your exercise. But if you don’t eat at all, you risk breaking down muscle and causing a great deal of stress to your body during exercise. Most people underestimate the importance of the carb part of the equation when fueling up for exercise, especially when strength training and focus on protein. Protein is important for muscle building and repair, but in order to lift those weights you need carbohydrates for energy. Choose carbs that are easily digestible and avoid high-fat foods or large quantities of any food just before working out because they don’t digest well during exercise.
Timing of meals before a workout is very important. Whether you’re strength training or going on a run, you want to make sure you have something within four hours before the workout and then a smaller snack in the hour before. If you know your workout is only going to last 45 minutes, keep the snack small but if it’s going to last 2 hours or longer, then you’re going to want to beef up that pre-exercise meal. Start with a low-glycemic-index meal, like oatmeal or bran cereal for example, three hours before you work out and then eat something 45 minutes to an hour before training. This will give you more energy and endurance to work harder, burn more calories, and improve your muscle tone.
Studies have shown breakfast with a low-glycemic-index (GI) meal, and contain protein, fat and/or fiber and are digested more slowly and can actually burn nearly twice as much fat during a 60-minute walk than a similar person consuming a high-GI meal. The low-GI breakfast is digested slowly so it doesn’t spike blood-glucose levels as high and in turn, insulin levels didn’t spike as high either. Insulin plays a role in signaling your body to store fat. So, lower levels of insulin can actually help you to burn fat. Aim for every gram of carbohydrate you consume to be utilized as an immediate fuel source or to restore glycogen levels and don’t allow it to be stored as fat by eating more carbs than you need.
If you want to add protein before a workout, research has indicated that whey protein prior to training will yield better results. This is most likely due to the anti-catabolic and anabolic signaling effects of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) present in whey protein. Whey has a considerably higher concentration of BCAAs than other proteins and protein and amino acids also spare carbs. People often assume that when the body runs out of carbohydrate fuel, it switches to fatty acids for fuel but that process is typically too slow for high-intensity training. To provide fuel more quickly, amino acids are rapidly broken down and converted to sugar in a process known as gluconeogenesis. If those amino acids aren’t in the blood supply, guess where they come from? Your muscles!
Staying hydrated can also help you perform better also. Hydrate pre-exercise with 2 to 3 cups of water, 2 to 3 hours before exercising. Not only does being well hydrated improve your performance, it can save your life. Water acts as your body’s cooling system and without sufficient water during exercise your body temperature can reach dangerously high levels. While recreational athletes can drink water for hydration, if you’re exercising for more than 60 minutes in hot, humid conditions, sports drinks provide not only fluid, but carbohydrates and sodium. Sports drinks are also a good choice if you play team sports like soccer or football, especially when the temperature and humidity are high, or if you are a heavy sweater, a sports drink might be preferable to water. A good sports drink will contain 14-15 grams of carbohydrate in 8 ounces. It should also contain about 110 milligrams of sodium and 30 milligrams of potassium in the same volume. If you are exercising to lose weight, stick to water or a “lighter” version of sports drinks with fewer carbs and calories as sports drinks are often high in calories.
Sample Pre-Workout Meals:
The ideal pre-workout meal has five characteristics:
- Low in fat
- Moderate in carbohydrates and protein
- Low in fiber
- Contains fluids
- Made up of familiar, well-tolerated foods.
Not only are they time-friendly, building your own blend has a bunch of exercise benefits. Use your favorite sliced fruit, a cup of Greek yogurt and some granola for a thicker consistency. If you’re picking one up, check the label to make sure it’s made from whey or milk-based proteins. And no need to go overboard — 10 to 20 grams of protein before exercising is plenty.
Whole Wheat Toast with Sliced Banana and Cinnamon:
Whole-wheat toast with fruit gives you both types of carbs with the bonus of being super easy to digest. Complex carbs will keep your motor humming, while the fruit adds an extra kick of energy. For those training for a race, bananas are perfect in raising potassium levels, which drop when you sweat a lot. For an added bonus, add a dash of cinnamon. The spice has been linked to stabilizing blood sugar and improving brain function.
Greek Yogurt and Trail Mix:
Greek Yogurt is easy on your stomach and when paired with trail mix can give you the little boost your body needs. Choose a mix that is mostly nut and dried fruit based with as little fillers as possible. The healthy sugars from dried fruit provide that quick energy boost while seeds and nuts will keep insulin levels from dropping mid-workout. Remember, seeds and nuts are high in fat, which means they take longer to digest so too many could make you start feeling sluggish and slow as you sweat.
Apple Wedges with Almond Butter:
If it comes down to picking out of the candy dish or an apple for some pre-workout sugar, go for the apple. You’ll avoid a sugar crash mid-lunge while stocking up on vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. To keep your stomach from growling, spread a tablespoon of almond butter on your slices. It squashes hunger and amps energy levels up.
Oatmeal with Fresh Fruit:
Oatmeal sticks with you throughout your workout by gradually releasing sugar into your bloodstream. Adding fruit to your bowl will help increase the fluid content of your pre-workout snack, keeping you hydrated.
Fueling During a Workout:
Often it is not necessary for a most people to fuel their bodies during a workout. Gels are good for endurance athletes but are not needed by the recreational athlete. Gels are concentrated forms of carbohydrate and can help long-distance cyclists and runners get some quick fuel during exercise. Since they are so concentrated, they should be washed down with water to avoid stomach upset. “Carb loading” should only be considered for those performing very hard, continuous exercise that lasts for 90 minutes or more. Another option if you do not want to incorporate Gel’s and you are performing an endurance type workout is honey. Honey will boost your energy during endurance activities and recent research suggests that carbohydrate blends (foods containing fructose and glucose) may be superior to straight glucose. It naturally has equal parts fructose and glucose, but it also contains a handful of antioxidants and vitamins. (The darker the honey, the more disease-fighting compounds it contains.)
The calories you eat after your workout will be used to replace energy stores in your muscles that got used up during your training session. Your body also uses any protein you eat to build and repair your muscles that were broken down as a result of you pushing them to their limits. Eating immediately after you finish a workout is beneficial since your body will automatically use the calories you eat for good (repair and recovery) and not bad (fat storage). In fact, research shows that your body’s ability to refill muscle energy stores decreases by 50 percent if you wait to eat just 2 hours after your workout compared to eating right away. Forty-five minutes to one hour after your workout, eat a whole food meal, also containing protein and carbohydrates after your workout as this may also increase your body’s insulin sensitivity or its ability to use carbohydrates, which is an important factor for weight loss and health) for the following 24 hours.
Muscles need protein for recovery and growth, and the best time to deliver protein appears to be right after exercise. Providing high-quality protein after exercise gives your muscles the fuel and the building blocks needed for both repair and for growth. During a workout, your body breaks down muscle glycogen as well as muscle protein structures, therefore following exercise, your body needs to replenish its energy stores and repair muscle tissue to allow for new growth. In order to do this, you’ll need to consume enough carbs to promote substantial insulin release. That’s because it’s your body’s insulin that is responsible for shuttling carbs and amino acids back into the muscles.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to consume about 0.8 grams of carbohydrate per 2.2 pounds of body weight within 30 to 60 minutes after your workout. Any longer and you may miss your “window of opportunity” (the time period in which your muscles will benefit most from nutrition). You’ll also want to take in about one-third or one-half that ratio in protein or about 0.2 to 0.4 grams per 2.2 pounds of body weight.
Easy Post-Workout Snacks:
A glass of OJ:
In addition to vitamin C, you’ll also get significantly more potassium than you would from popular sports drinks, which are generally intended for use during extended exercise, not after. Potassium is an important electrolyte that helps the body restores its fluid levels. Orange juice also works well for protein shakes.
These are high in the “good” kinds of carbs you need after a workout. These fast-acting carbs will help restore your body’s levels of glycogen, which helps rebuild damaged muscles. And they provide lots of wonderful potassium.
These give your body a huge antioxidant boost. In fact, studies show that blueberries can triple your rate of recovery after intense workouts.
Hummus & Pita:
Made from chickpeas, hummus contains both protein and carbs, and the slow-release carbs from the pita will keep energy levels up after a tough workout.
These are especially helpful for building muscle; a half cup contains 34 grams of protein.
Tart cherry juice:
Tart cherry juice delivers antioxidants that mop up the harmful free radicals produced when you exercise. And research shows that a daily dose of cherry juice may help ease inflammation that causes sore muscles.
This fruit contains Bromelain, a natural anti-inflammatory that’s been proven to heal bruises, sprains, and swelling. They’re also high in vitamin C, a key component in repairing tissue.
This little fruit packs huge amounts of vitamin C and potassium into a tiny serving. They’re also an excellent source of antioxidants, which help combat muscle soreness and while most people peel these, the skin it’s full of even more nutrients.
Sample Post-Workout Meals:
Grilled Chicken and Mixed Vegetables:
Your body is in recovery mode, so you need a nutrient dense dish. The lean protein and carbohydrates in chicken will fill you up without feeling overly bloated. Add some veggies in olive oil to keep your heart healthy too.
Veggie Omelet with Avocado:
Eggs are a great source of protein and help aid in muscle recovery and growth. A veggie-packed omelet garnished with a few slices of avocado for fiber and monosaturated fats can help your body better absorb fat soluble nutrients that your veggies have like vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins are stocked with antioxidants, the best boost for your body, inside and out.
Salmon with Sweet Potato:
Salmon has bioactive peptides, small protein molecules that play a role in inflammation reduction, helping to regulate insulin levels and give you joint support. Sweet potatoes pack in those complex carbs as well as help to restore glycogen levels, which get depleted after a workout.
Whole Wheat Tuna Fish, Hummus and Spinach Sandwich:
Tuna is low in calories, but high in protein and carbs. Hummus is a better-for-you spread over mayo or mustard, while also being high in fiber and spinach is a produce powerhouse, handling everything from curbing your appetite to boosting your complexion and lowering blood pressure and inflammation.
Recent research has shown that chocolate milk has everything you need in one glass: carbs and protein for muscle recovery, water content to replace the fluids lost as sweat and calcium, sodium and sugar — all ingredients that help you recover faster, retain water and regain energy. Got milk, anyone?