Someone asked on twitter what the best thing to eat after a workout is and this got me thinking about food and exercise in general. I know I don’t always eat the right things to get the best out of my workouts, because food can affect how you perform. I did a little research and found a number of questions on this matter.
ating right can give you the edge to help energize your workout or reach that 26th mile. But which foods are best for fitness activities, and which should you avoid? With so many sports drinks, bars, powders, and supplements to choose from, how do you know which are best? Or can you skip the expensive supplements and get everything you need from a well-planned diet?
Fueling your exercise routines requires quality carbohydrates, lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and fluids. Your muscles rely on carbohydrate foods like breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables for a quick energy source. Protein is needed to build and maintain muscles and for healthy blood cells. Blood cells deliver nutrients and oxygen to working muscles. Basically, foods provide the petrol to the body’s engine, and fluids provide the water to your body’s radiator. Without these crucial fuels and fluids, your body will have a hard time performing at its best.
The ideal pre-workout meal has five characteristics:
1. Low fat
2. Moderate in carbohydrates and protein
3. Low fiber
4. Contains fluids
5. Made up of familiar, well-tolerated foods.
The pre-workout meal is not the time to get adventurous and try a new food. A grilled chicken sandwich or a slice of cheese pizza might fit the pre-game meal description, but stay clear of the fried, oily food and soft drinks.
The Importance Of Hydration
Not only does being well hydrated improve your performance, it can save your life. Water acts as your body’s cooling system; without sufficient water during exercise your body temperature can reach dangerously high levels. The best way to stay hydrated is to drink plenty of fluids with meals and drink about two glasses of water two hours before exercise. It’s easy to find out if you’re drinking enough. Weigh yourself before and after exercise and replace lost weight with 2 cups of fluids for each pound lost. Check the color of your urine. When you’re hydrated, your urine will be a light straw color.
It’s okay to drink water for hydration with lighter exercises, but if you’re exercising for more than 60 minutes in hot, humid conditions, sports drinks provide not only fluid, but also carbohydrate and sodium. Sports drinks are also a good choice if you play team sports like soccer or football, especially when the temperature and humidity are high. If you are a heavy sweater, a sports drink might be preferable to water.
Exercising On An Empty Stomach
It really depends on the type of exercise, a brisk walk or light jog on an empty stomach is fine; just drink a glass of water before heading out the door. For more intense exercise, eat some easy-to-digest carbs (a slice of toast, half a plain bagel, a banana, or cup of fruit cocktail washed down with a glass of water) to help provide fuel. If you’re a morning person, then be aware that after sleeping, the overnight fast can deplete your liver stores of carbohydrate, so a quick boost of carbs before longer exercise is recommended.
Protein Shakes, Sports Drinks And Bars
Muscles need protein for recovery and growth, and the best time to deliver protein appears to be right after exercise. Providing high-quality protein after exercise gives your muscles the fuel and the building blocks needed for both repair and for growth. Protein shakes and powders are effective, but your muscles don’t care if the protein comes from a hard-boiled egg, glass of chocolate milk or whey protein shake. Whatever you choose, more isn’t better, only 10 to 20 grams of protein is needed to provide amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to muscles.
Sports drinks are good but if you’re exercising to lose weight, stick to water or a “lighter” version of sports drinks with fewer carbs and calories. Look for energy bars that contain about 5 grams of protein, with some carbohydrate (preferably with more naturally occurring sugars) and very little fat. Many energy bars are just glorified, expensive chocolate bars, so remember that “energy” means calories and watch out for high-calorie bars. They are helpful for athletes on the go, so if you can’t eat before a long tennis match, an energy bar can help.
Choose protein powders made from whey protein or milk proteins (milk protein contains two types of proteins, both whey and casein). Use them within 30 minutes after exercising to provide needed amino acids to muscles. If you’re looking to bulk up, use a protein drink as an evening snack.
On a final note, healthy eating is great for your wellness, but combining it with regular exercise will maximize its benefits. Get out there and get moving!