This is one of the most common questions I hear as a dietitian who works with active people. It’s also a very important question for anybody who is exercising and wants to get the maximum benefit from a workout. So often people faithfully put the work in at the gym but neglect their nutrition, robbing themselves of optimal results. Benefits of fueling appropriately include, but are not limited to, higher intensity training over longer intervals, improved recovery, optimal body composition, increased strength and decreased risk of injury. In other words, this means that proper nutrition has the potential to allow you to workout longer and harder, while feeling better and losing body fat. Let’s go over some practical ideas on how to properly fuel and refuel.
For optimal performance, your body needs a combination of carbohydrates and protein before exercise. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel for all muscle movement. Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth, and consuming a small amount before exercise aids the recovery process.
Timing is important. If you’re eating within 1 hour of exercise, I recommend limiting fat, fiber and excess protein for easy digestion. If your last meal was within 2 hours before exercise, you’re covered and don’t need an additional snack, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
Great pre-workout snacks include:
- Banana with 1-2 Tbsp of peanut butter
- 1/2 turkey sandwich on whole grain bread
- Fruit smoothie made with greek yogurt or protein powder
- Oatmeal topped with berries and sliced almonds
Once you’ve done the work in the gym, make sure you refuel well for maximum benefit. Improper post-exercise nutrition could lead to uncontrolled hunger, poor energy, diminished performance during your next bout of exercise, increased soreness and muscle breakdown. Following exercise, your body needs another dose of protein and carbohydrates. The protein will promote muscle synthesis, while the carbohydrates replenish the stores of carbohydrates burned during exercise. It is key to refuel within 1 hour after exercise, and the sooner, the better.
If your next meal is within 1 hour after the completion of exercise, your meal is a great opportunity to refuel without adding additional calories. Just be sure to incorporate both carbs and protein.
Try these post-exercise options:
- Breakfast taco with scrambled eggs and spinach in a corn tortilla
- Greek yogurt, berries and a sprinkle of granola
- Toasted sprouted grain bread topped with peanut butter and a banana
- 8oz low-fat chocolate milk
- 1/2 sweet potato and black beans
You may feel like you can function without properly fueling and refueling, but why settle for functioning when you can perform optimally. Same goes for overall nutrition and health: eat to feel your best, not just to keep breathing.
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