Foods to Pump Up Your Exercise
By Elizabeth M. Economou
Eating well can improve your workout and recovery.
Whether training for your first half-marathon, heading outside for a vigorous walk, or leaving for a day of skiing, what you eat before and after your outing will play a role in how well you achieve your fitness goals.
For a workout to be successful, it must include adequate nourishment, says Tessa Farr, a registered dietitian at Group Health's Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane.
Fuel up before you start. Because carbohydrates provide energy for your workout, Farr recommends combining them with a small amount of lean protein. In the morning, that could be a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter, or low-fat granola with low-fat yogurt. If you exercise in the evening, a good combination for dinner would be a lean protein such as chicken, a whole grain like brown rice for the carbohydrate energy, and a salad or vegetable. Steer away from fatty foods that are harder to digest, and carbonated beverages, which can cause bloating.
Trial and error will help determine how soon you can exercise after eating. "While some people can eat 10 minutes before going for a long jog without any stomach discomfort, others can't eat anything within two hours of running," says Farr.
Whether you should eat while you're exercising depends on how long you work out and at what intensity. If you're exercising for more than an hour, you'll need to replace your glycogen stores (sugar stored in the muscles for energy) every 60 to 90 minutes, says Farr. Energy bars, dried fruit, gels (a supplement found in sports stores and grocery stores), crackers, and sports drinks are good choices.
Hydration is important too. It's a good idea to consume 14 to 22 ounces of water about two to three hours prior to exercising, even if you're not thirsty. During exercise, how much you drink will depend on the intensity and duration of your workout. For moderate exercise, it's fine to drink to quench your thirst. With a more intense workout, drink 6 to 12 ounces every 15 minutes. And if you exercise so long and hard that you actually lose weight, drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost.
Food for the finish. Once you're done exercising, it's time to help your body recover. Carbohydrates will restore glycogen, and protein will help repair muscle. Healthy post-workout snacks include chocolate milk, yogurt, fruit with string cheese, lean meat, or an English muffin with peanut butter.
For those who are exercising with the goal of shedding a few pounds, giving up carbs entirely is not the way to go, says Farr. "Some people I have come across are afraid to eat carbohydrates because they don't want to get fat," says Farr. "They don't understand that their bodies will not function without carbohydrates, especially if they are avid exercisers or competitors."
Everyone's nutritional needs are different depending on the duration, intensity, and type of activity as well as personal factors, such as age, gender, height, and weight. But everyone — from the moderate exerciser to the hard-core athlete — will benefit from eating well, says Farr.