Fuel Yourself – What to Eat Before and After Exercising
Sometimes maintaining a healthy lifestyle can feel like an obstacle course. Every day, we see new studies with specific recommendations about every aspect of our lives, from what we eat for breakfast to how much sleep we’re getting. So we get that this topic might seem daunting. You eat well, you exercise regularly…and now you have to think about what you eat WHEN you exercise?
The good news is…if you’re maintaining a relatively balanced diet and leading an active lifestyle, you’re probably doing just fine. Think about it – our bodies are built for movement. So chances are you don’t need to add any fuel to your day for a typical workout, whether it’s a yoga class or a light jog. In fact, the most common workout mistake is to eat more than you need to refuel, ending up in a worse place than you started. Ever find yourself craving a year’s supply of ice cream after 20 minutes of jogging? Or is that just us?
That said, there are definitely guidelines for optimizing your workout nutrition. But remember: if you’re eating well and exercising, you’re already doing great.
Before a Workout
Do you really need to eat something before working out? It can sometimes feel like a nuisance, especially for those early morning sessions. But even if it’s just a small snack or smoothie, it’s absolutely crucial to eat something before you hit the gym. Not only will it give you energy and keep you from being distracted by your rumbling stomach, it’ll also give your muscles the fuel they need to function properly – and help you recover faster post-workout.
For pre-exercise eats, it’s best to stick to foods and drinks that are high in carbohydrates and easily digested. Rice, pasta, potatoes and bread are all your friends here. Fatty or high-protein foods are best avoided within 2 hours of a workout, as they take longer to digest. And before exercising, it’s best to steer clear of foods that can cause digestive discomfort, like onions, garlic and cabbage.
After a Workout
The most important thing to do after a workout? Drink! Now is a critical time to replace body fluids and help your muscles recover. Whether you go for water, a sports drink or a high-protein smoothie…if it’s liquid, it’s your post-workout friend.
As for a post-workout snack, your best bet is a mix of carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates help bring your energy levels back up, and protein helps repair and build your muscles. High-protein meals will also keep you feeling fuller, longer. Because skipping that extra mid-afternoon snack will keep you feeling virtuous after that trip to the gym.
After a super high-intensity workout, aim for a light snack with 15-25 g of protein and 50-75 g of carbs, ideally within half an hour. After a less intense exercise session (like a yoga class or long bike ride), any snack will do, whether it’s a granola bar or a banana.
Calories = Energy
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: calories are not the enemy. Calories are energy – they fuel everything your body does. So it goes without saying that before or after a workout, there’s nothing to fear about calories – as long as they come from a nutritious source. Healthy foods can be high in calories, but they’ll also be packed with vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre.
What do we mean by “healthy food”? It’s pretty easy to figure out. Stick to vibrantly coloured fruits and veggies, especially dark green and orange veggies like spinach, broccoli and sweet potato. If you’re craving something sweet, reach for fruit rather than fruit juice, so you get all the benefits of fibre along with the sugars. And when you’re choosing carbs, try to stick to whole grains that are rich in fibre, like brown rice, oatmeal and whole-grain breads.
Stick to these common-sense guidelines and you’ll find you have more energy to maximize your workouts – and that your muscles bounce back faster. If you get your energy from nutrition-packed foods, you really can’t go wrong. So go forth and exercise! You got this.