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Meals and Exercise: Time it Right

What you eat before, during and after a workout has a major impact on whether you will maximize the benefits of your training.  Check out this helpful advice about what to eat at all three stages. 

Pre-workout

The point of a pre-workout meal is to fuel yourself so you can perform your best and put less stress on your body.  Meals before exercise, when balanced right, will help to keep you energized, provide endurance through the workout and prevent muscle breakdown. Carbohydrates are an integral part of a pre-workout meal because they are the easiest way for your body to gather energy with the least amount of effort. Carbs also help to protect from muscle catabolism, which is where your body begins to eat your muscles to gain energy for your workouts. Some examples of the best forms of pre-workout carbohydrates are going to be things like oatmeal, brown rice, bananas, and apples. Consuming them about 30 minutes before your workout gives your body enough time to digest them and have the energy available for your body to access during the workout.

Eating protein before your workouts is also important as it keeps you satiated and whatever is leftover helps to rebuild the muscle fibers that are broken down during training.  This is especially important if you are lifting weights.  Protein should be eaten about 2 hours before your workout. Good protein snacks include Greek yogurt, grilled chicken, and eggs. Eating too much fat before a workout can make you feel sluggish as fats are the hardest for your body to digest, so they take longer to digest and use more energy from your body.  

During your workout

Be sure to stay hydrated, especially if you are exercising outdoors.  Stick to plain water unless you are exercising very rigorously for an extended amount of time (football practice, intense cycling, combat sports, etc).  It is okay to consume sports drinks in those situations to replenish electrolytes, salt and carbs being lost, otherwise they are just unnecessary sugar.  Consuming a small granola or power bar during a long hike or bike ride is okay too. 

Post-Workout

It is essential to take in a healthy dose of protein immediately following any sort of rigorous exercise.  This provides your body has the building blocks it needs to rebuild the muscles which were damaged throughout the workout. Even though you may have eaten protein before your workout, your body already used a lot of it up during your session.  Good proteins include whey or plant-based protein powder, beans, eggs/egg whites, quinoa, chicken, lean beef and fish.

 It is also important to get carbs into your post-workout meal, as you need them to help push the protein into the muscle cells.  This is one of the few times it is okay to go with faster acting carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, white rice, or even a handful of gummy bears.  Yes, you read that right, the dextrose in gummy bears actually aids in post workout recovery (note this is not a license to eat a one pound bag of them).  Many people choose to make a protein shake right after their workout for a quick and easy way to consume protein and other nutrients, which holds them over while they get their lunch or dinner ready.  

However you decide to get your post-workout nutrition in, be it a protein shake or a full meal, it is important to include fast acting carbs and protein.  A SMALL portion of healthy fat after your workout is also good, however you should keep higher fat meals separate from your post-workout snack/meal as too much fat will slow down digestion and will slow down the absorption of your carbs and protein. small serving of fat is not going to hurt your digestion, and can help your body to absorb certain nutrients.  It goes without saying, always include dark, healthy veggies with your meals!

Remember that it isn’t just about what you eat it is when you eat it.  Follow these meal timing rules and adjust your portions to your level of activity to see the best results.