Eating before and after your workouts

Whether your workout plan for the day consists of a light jog or a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class, knowing what to eat before and after your workout can make or break your exercise routine.

Some people believe that since the goal of exercising is to burn calories, you should exercise on an empty stomach. This could not be further from the truth. Your body needs fuel to perform. Exercising on an empty stomach reduces the amount of energy you have to maximize your workout, limiting your ability to burn calories.

Think of your body like a car. It needs fuel to run. When your “gas tank” is empty, your body will begin to break down the amino acids in your muscles and convert them to glucose for energy. Instead of burning fat, you are in danger of damaging important muscle tissue.

To tap into your fat stores instead, eat something nutritious before you exercise. It is also a good idea to refuel after exercising with a nutritious snack and hydrating beverage. Choose from a variety of lean protein (meat, fish, beans, eggs or nuts), complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and low-fat dairy products.

If your workout routine for the day consists of walking, low to moderate paced biking or low-intensity elliptical, the pre-workout meal may or may not be needed. On the other hand, if you are planning a heavy weight lifting, circuit training or HIIT day, having a pre-workout meal will provide great energy.

Before Your Workout

Hydration is a vital component to performing at your optimal level. Most people sweat when they exercise. How much depends on the intensity of the workout, the environment and your genetic makeup. Exercising while dehydrated will affect your success and is potentially damaging to your health. Drinking enough fluids before, during and after exercise will keep you from becoming dehydrated.

It is never advisable to hit the gym or go for a run on an empty stomach. Fitness experts agree that fueling your body with a small snack before you exercise is the best way to maximize your workout. This holds true for early-morning workouts, as well. Eating a small, easily digestible snack 30 minutes to an hour before you exercise can give you ample energy and a calm stomach for a great workout. One hour or more before a workout, you should eat something small like a yogurt, protein shake or eggs.

*Exercise tip: It is never a good idea to exercise on a full stomach. Depending on how much you have eaten, it can take between 1 to 4 hours to fully digest your meal. Plan ahead to avoid cramping and discomfort during you work out.

After Your Workout

Post-workout nutrition depends on your goals; whether it’s fat loss, muscle building, or weight maintenance. It is important to realize that just because you had an excellent workout; it doesn’t give you a free pass to gorge yourself in the kitchen. The last thing you want to do is negate all of the energy and sweat you just expelled.

If you are heading straight to work after the gym, plan ahead. Pack a protein shake, a hard boiled egg, Greek yogurt or green smoothie with added protein powder in a cooler and eat it on the go.

Post-workout hydration is just as, if not more, important as hydrating before you exercise. Our bodies are made up mostly of water, which means that proper hydration is vital to your body’s performance and recovery. After you exercise, your goal is to fully replenish any fluid you lost during your workout.

If you are dehydrated following a workout, the combination of proteins that work to rebuild muscle will be slowed and subsequently delay your recovery from the workout. One of the most common signs of dehydration is fatigue. When you are dehydrated, your heart has to work harder to pump the blood to all of the parts of your body that need its vital oxygen and nutrients. This fatigue not only affects your post-workout recovery, but fatigue and lethargy reduce motivation for your next workout.

Rehydration after exercising has a significant impact on recovery. It is crucial to develop a post-workout hydration plan that replenishes the liquids, electrolytes and sodium lost during exercise.

*Health tip: Feelings of light-headedness and dizziness are directly linked to dehydration. While these symptoms may appear mild at first, like muscle cramps or dry mouth, they can lead to more serious signs like dizziness, nausea and vomiting. If you are feeling dizzy, your lack of hydration has progressed to an unsafe level. Immediately stop your workout and re-hydrate.

Properly focusing on your nutrition before and after you exercise will give you the boost you need to recover from a strenuous workout and help you get the most out of the next one.