Fueling the Engine: What to Eat Before and After Exercising

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Knowing what to eat before and after exercising can drastically amplify the results achieved by a consistent workout routine. Although many fitness fans believe fat is burned faster by exercising on an empty stomach, most experts warn against this potentially metabolism-lowering practice.

Studies have shown that eating small meals before and after exercising can dramatically improve performance by keeping blood glucose levels stable—but it’s important to eat the right types of food at the right times.

Below are some useful fueling tips to enhance any fitness program:

 

1. Water Works Well—

The number one rule of effective exercise and recovery is proper hydration. We need fluids before, during and after workouts to keep all systems running smoothly and body temperature cool.

Plain water, coconut water, herbal teas or other types of non-caffeinated beverages are highly recommended, and be especially sure to hydrate 1-2 hours before exercising.

Well-timed pre-hydration will prepare the body for exercise without causing the sloshing, stomach-cramping feeling that drinking liquid too close to a workout can create.

 

2. Post-Exercise Hydration Helps—

Post-workout liquids are a great way to replace lost fluids, and including protein in these drinks can help muscles heal.

Protein shakes are a favorite recovery drink because they’re easy to make and contain helpful amino acids, but chocolate milk also offers similar benefits.

No matter what, your recovery drink should contain protein; and if you’ve worked out for a long time or in excessive heat, consider adding electrolytes as well.

 

3. Meal Timing is Important—

It is recommended that all foods be eaten at least 1-2 hours before exercise to avoid cramping, indigestion and other gastrointestinal issues that working out after meals may cause.

Because the stomach is busy digesting food, the body has less energy to dedicate to the workout, making exercise after a meal more difficult.

If your schedule doesn’t allow time for proper digestion, try to eat the smallest snack possible for your energy needs.

 

4. Food Type is Important—

Because carbohydrates give the body the most readily available energy source, they are the top pre-workout choice of food for many.

Especially recommended for shorter workouts involving intense training, carbohydrates keep the body’s engine running strong with less chance for stomach issues, such as those caused by fatty or excessively fibrous foods.

Protein is a good pre-exercise food for those exercising multiple hours in a row, as the carbohydrates will be burned first, with protein providing energy later when carb reserves are depleted.

 

5. Get on a Schedule—

Use a journal and take notes if it helps you figure out which foods give you the most effective workout, and try to stick to an eating/hydrating/exercising schedule if you can.

Everybody’s different, so what works for others may or may not work for you, but by staying conscious of your choices and schedule, you will find it easier to give your body exactly what it needs, allowing for better results.

Keeping a food and exercise journal can also help those who are dieting remain aware of the calories consumed and burned for weight loss progress.

 

6. Make Wise Food Choices—

In addition to knowing when to eat carbs or protein, it’s also important to choose healthy versions of these foods. For example: fried chicken is mostly protein, but it comes with excessive fat and simple carbs in the breading that might upset an exercising stomach.

Some popular pre-workout meals include whole grain cereals, breads or pastas because whole grains are high in fiber, causing them to be digested and absorbed slowly.

Examples of complex carbohydrates with a bit of protein for great pre-workout energy might be: peanut butter on whole grain toast, yogurt mixed with whole grain cereal, oatmeal with nuts, apple slices with a handful of almonds, or eggs scrambled with vegetables.

 

Smart hydration, fueling and recovery selections can greatly increase the benefits and effectiveness of any workout regimen. Use the tips above to remember when and what to eat before and after a workout to give your body the most efficient exercising experience possible.

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