Whether you’re trying to lose weight or just stay in shape, the benefits of exercising can be enhanced or diminished based on your eating habits. An intense session of physical activity consumes a lot of energy, but your body also needs fuel to recover post-workout. So if you’re engaged in regular physical activities, you need to follow a few guidelines to maximize the effectiveness of working out and avoid health issues.
The first thing you need to know is that exercising on an empty stomach is definitely not recommended. You will have a low energy level, and as a result, you might not be at the top of your game during the workout. On the other hand, by eating a large meal before your training session, a large portion of your blood flow will go to your digestive system instead of fueling your muscles.
Carbohydrates, protein, fat and fluids are the main ingredients of fuel needed by muscles during and after a workout. Carbohydrates are stored in muscles as glycogen but this happens in time so after exercise, you need certain foods to support this process and muscle recovery.
Protein combined with carbohydrates will increase the storage of glycogen. It is also needed post-workout as it provides amino acids for rebuilding the muscle tissue after intense physical activity.
Even though people usually exercise to lose fat or at least prevent its appearance, you need to ingest a low amount of fat after a workout since it is responsible for producing muscle-building hormones, which will also help the recovery process.
And last but not least, your body will need fluids. Not just when you exercise but also before and most certainly after in order to recover the water you lost through sweat and prevent dehydration.
What type of foods should you eat and when?
It is good to eat before exercising, but you need to consider a few facts. The first one is the size of the meal you plan to eat. If it’s a large meal, you must eat it three to four hours before exercising. A small meal can be eaten two to three hours before the workout, and a small snack one hour before your training session.
Before the workout
Your pre-workout meal should ideally be rich in carbohydrates and easy to digest, but it you would have to eat it at least three hours before to allow enough time for glycogen to be stored in your muscles.
Carbohydrates are found in foods such as bread, pasta, rice, fruits, vegetables, and energy bars. If you can’t schedule such a meal, a quick snack one hour before the workout is the solution. It should be something light such as a fruit or fruit juice, just enough to keep you going.
What you eat after you work out is equally important. And you have to do that! Contrary to popular belief, protein is not the most important resource your body needs after physical effort. Your muscles need their glycogen levels restored, which can only be done by carbohydrates. However, protein is also needed and the ideal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio is 4:1. The truth is your muscles need fuel to recover immediately after the workout, and a light snack such as a turkey sandwich or an apple would do the job. Sadly, most people can’t eat solid food right away. A liquid snack, such as a sports drink or a chocolate smoothie, would be a solution. For a post-workout meal, make sure you stay away from fatty foods and focus on poultry, fish, and vegetables. The low amount of fat your body needs will naturally come from these sources.
And of course, do not forget the water. Water is always good. You have to drink it before, during (if possible), and after you exercise to replace the fluids lost by sweating. While sports drinks are recommended as a post-workout liquid snack for everyone, you don’t have to drink them during the workout unless they are intense and last more than one hour.