Thursday, July 30, 2009

What to Eat Before & After a Workout

We all know the importance of exercise, but I've often faced the question about What to eat before and after a workout, and how much time should I give after a meal before I hit the gym? Is this important? Yes, indeed, as this can very well be responsible for how effective your workout is! Diet and Exercise go hand-in-hand, and while you may know that you should space your meals 5 times a day, its imperative to know how much and what to eat before hitting the gym so that you can reap the maximum benefits from your workout. Exercising on a full stomach will make you sluggish, while not eating will not give you enough strength to complete your workout. Same goes for after the workout. So what food should you actually choose as your pre-workout and post-workout meal?

The foods you eat before you exercise and the timing of your meals or snacks really matters a lot. If you eat a large meal just before you exercise, you may experience nausea, feel sluggish or end up with muscle cramps. This happens because your body needs energy to digest the foods you eat so blood flow increases to your digestive system, leaving less energy-providing blood for muscles. Exercising on an empty stomach isn't good either. Skipping meals before exercising can cause low blood sugar, which can make you to feel weak and light-headed. You also need some energy in the form of the right types of food to properly fuel your work out. Eating a light meal before exercise may actually increase your fat-burning potential.

Eating Before Exercise
If you eat a large, protein, fiber and fat filled meal, wait about four hours to exercise.If you eat a light meal, you only have to wait about two hours to work out. Your body prefers to use carbohydrates as fuel, so your pre-workout meal should include plenty of carbohydrates from bread, pasta, fruits and vegetables and energy bars. You can even choose low-fat yogurt or some granola or cereal if you have at least 3 hours before your session. You don't need to avoid protein and fat, however they are not recommended if you will be exercising in an hour or two. If your timing is off and you feel hungry when it is time to exercise, pick a small snack like a piece of fruit, a sports beverage or some natural fruit juice. I prefer to drink a glass of V8 fruit or tomato juice an hour before I'm ready to go to the gym. Meats, doughnuts, fries, potato chips, cookies and candy bars should definitely be avoided in a pre-exercise meal. Also avoid high-fiber foods like beans and lentils, bran cereals and fruit, as they can cause gas or cramping.

If you prefer morning workouts, it's best to get up early enough to eat your pre-exercise meal. If not, you should try to eat or drink something easily digestible about 20 to 30 minutes before the event, or opt for a liquid meal as its much easier to digest. If you work out in the evenings, choose a time before dinner, so you have at least 2-3 hours after the workout to eat your dinner. If possible, keep your dinners light and choose a heavier lunch.

Eating After Exercise
Eating after exercise is important as well to restore glycogen. Your muscles need the raw materials to recuperate after your work out. The first nutritional priority after exercise is to replace any fluid lost during exercise, so replenish yourself with water or juice as soon as you are done. The post-work out meal should contain some protein, some complex carbohydrates and some healthy fats too. Research has shown that eating 100-200 grams of carbohydrate within two hours of endurance exercise is essential to building adequate glycogen stores for continued training. However, combining protein with carbohydrate in the two hours after exercise nearly doubles the insulin response, which results in more stored glycogen. Proteins also provide the amino acids necessary to rebuild muscle tissue that is damaged during intense, prolonged exercise (or strength-training), and can increase the absorption of water from the intestines and improve muscle hydration.

The optimal carbohydrate to protein ratio for this effect is 4:1 (four grams of carbohydrate for every one gram of protein). Eating more protein than that has a negative impact bas it slows rehydration and glycogen replenishment. A light meal or snack within 2 hours after exercise is perfect. A Balance bar or a lean turkey sandwich on whole grain bread would make a nice after-workout snack. YOu can also choose an egg, or a simple salad or fruit drink. Remember to be within your calorie count for the day though, and choose something light, especially if you are still going to have dinner later.

Do Not Forget the Water
Hydration is as important for your health as food, and when you exercise, your body undergoes a depletion of water when you sweat. Drink a glass of water an hour or so before your workout and again after your workout. You can also sip water throughout your workout if you'd like, which keeps you hydrated, and also helps burn more calories.

Choose What's Best for You
Generally, the average woman needs 200 calories of food and 20 ounces of water 1 hour prior to her workout. Men with higher calorie needs may need 300 calories and 30ounces of water. However, every body has a different need, and though generalisations give you an idea, you are the only one who knows your body. Some people, like my husband, can never exercise on an empty stomach, but I have a friend who feels like she'll throw up if she eats anything before a workout! So its best to consult a registered dietitian who can chart out a meal plan based on your individual needs. Try different options and see what works best for you. Be careful not to eat too much or too little at one time, and remember to space out your meals during the day. Also, if you have special conditions like diabetes or low or high blood pressure, you should not follow any advice without consulting a physician.

There is no joy compared to seeing yourself burn more fat and lose a few inches! I'm sure everyone works hard enough to achieve their fitness goals, and with just a little more care in choosing what you eat can help a lot in conquering your goals. So use the suggestions above as guidelines to decide on what to eat before and after exercise, and find out what works out best for you.

Note: The author is not a licensed nutritionist or trainer. Please restrict use of this article as a guideline only, and consult a physician for individual needs.

Related Articles:
Counting Calories for Healthy Weight Loss
Combine Cardio and Strength-Training in your Workout
10 Simple Eating Habits for Weight Management

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