You’ve worked hard on your fitness. You exercise frequently because you know the benefits it’ll bring. BUT if you don’t have a nutrition plan to go along with your fitness routine, you’re doing yourself a pretty big disservice when it comes to getting the results that you want
If you workout while you’re starved, you simply won’t have the energy for your body to gain maximum fitness. If you exercise for a long time without eating, you’ll limit your ability to burn calories and maintain intensity. And if you don’t feed your muscles and replenish your energy stores after exercise, you won’t have the necessary building blocks for recovery.
Just before you exercise, the last thing you want to do is put a load of protein and fats into your body, even if they’re healthy proteins and fats. These types of fuels take a long time to digest and draw precious oxygen and energy-delivering blood into your stomach and away from your exercising muscles. They also carry a greater risk of giving you a stomachache during your exercise. But if you don’t eat at all, you risk breaking down muscle and causing a great deal of stress to your body during exercise
Here are good guidelines for timing your meals:
1. Allow adequate time for digestion
2. If you eat a large meal, allow 3-4 hours before exercise
3. For smaller meals, allow 2-3 hours
4. Allow a 1/2- to 1 hour to digest a small snack
5. Beware of eating a high-fat meal before exercise because it fat takes longer to digest, and it may cause stomach discomfort and sluggishness
The ideal pre-workout meal is consumed about two hours before exercise, contains about 300-500 calories, and is composed primarily of healthy carbohydrates. If you don’t have time to eat two hours before, a quick 50-100 calorie snack 5-10 minutes prior to exercise will also be effective. Given that most of us have busy lives, it’s a fair bet that your pre-exercise meal will be a snack rather than the ideal meal
So if you’re exercising first thing, try a bowl of porridge, whole-grain cereal, whole-wheat toast, or even sweet potato as a pre-workout meal eaten two hours before your workout. If you have to eat directly before your workout, a small piece of fruit—like an apple or banana—will do. If that sounds a bit too blah for you, then you can try just a little bit of protein or fat, like a teaspoon of peanut butter or a small handful of almonds, but just don’t go overboard and eat last night’s pizza for your pre-workout meal. before a lunch or evening workout, try fruit, almonds or protein bars
What should you eat while exercising?
If you plan on exercising for less than an hour, you don’t need to eat; just make sure you hydrate with small, frequent sips of water during your workout. But if you’re doing something like a long run or bike ride, or maybe a couple of back-to-back fitness classes, try to eat 50-100 calories every half hour, preferably from a quick carbohydrate source that is easy to carry, like a ziplock bag of raisins, an energy bar, energy gels, or even a sports drink. The goal is not to replace every calorie that you burn, but rather to give you just enough fuel so that you can maintain a brightly burning metabolism. And one other quick and dirty tip: make sure you review your gym’s rules about eating in the gym; the last thing you want is a personal trainer chiding you for your trail of biscuit crumbs
What should you eat after a workout?
There’s a window of time about 20-60 minutes after you exercise in which your muscles will readily accept the carbohydrates and protein that youeat and suck them up to be stored away as precious energy and building blocks for recovery. But if you wait too long after exercising to eat, your body become less likely to use what you eat as fuel and recovery, and more likely to run out of energy during your next exercise session, whether later in the day or even the next day
The ideal post-workout meal is a blend of carbohydrates and protein. There are all sorts of fancy ratios used by elite athletes, but the basic rule is to eat just a little more carbohydrates than protein, and to consume about 2 calories of carbohydrate for every pound of target bodyweight. For example, if your target bodyweight is 150lbs, you should eat about 300 calories of carbohydrate, and about half that many calories of protein. A sample post-workout meal would be chicken with brown rice, yogurt with almonds, or a protein shake with a banana
Don’t wait until you get home or to your office to eat. Typically, by the time you’ve prepared breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you’ve missed your magic window of 20-60 minutes. Instead, prepare and carry your post-workout fuel in your gym bag or car. This is when Ziplocs, Tupperware containers, and shaker cups come in very handy
Putting it all together
When it comes to getting fit and healthy, nutrition is just as big a part of the equation as exercise. That doesn’t mean you need to arrive at the gym with a shopping bag full of fruit, or a 24-pack of energy drinks, but it does mean that you should plan ahead to give your body the fuel it needs for fitness.
When it comes to eating and exercise, everyone is different. So pay attention to how you feel during your workout and your overall performance. Let your experience guide you on which pre- and post-exercise eating habits work best for you. Consider keeping a journal to monitor how your body reacts to meals and snacks so that you can tweak your diet for optimal performance