A healthy diet is essential for peak performance if you regularly participate in an intense exercise, which causes your heart rate to reach 70 percent to 85 percent or more of its maximum. This could include running, biking up steep hills, interval training or doing a boot camp-style workout. Failing to eat properly before and after an intense workout can zap your energy levels and decrease your exercise performance. Fueling your body properly with a healthy diet is essential to stay energized, build strength and stamina and recover properly after every workout.
Without a healthy preworkout snack or meal, your body can go into starvation mode. When you exercise in starvation mode, your metabolism slows down, and you can experience muscle loss because your body uses protein from your muscles instead of carbs and fat. To prevent this, eat a small meal or snack that combines one serving of protein and one serving of complex carbohydrates before your workout. For example, munch on a banana with almond butter, oatmeal with berries or an apple with a handful of walnuts prior to your intense workout.
Your body uses the glycogen in your muscles as fuel during an intense workout. In order for your muscles to recover and grow bigger and stronger after your exercise routine, you must immediately refuel your glycogen stores. You also need protein for muscle repair. Eat foods that combine a serving of carbohydrates and a serving of protein -- such as steamed vegetables with tofu, quinoa with blackberries and walnuts or a salad with roasted chickpeas. Rehydrating after your workout is also important. Drink at least 16 ounces of water after your intense routine. Water-dense foods such as soups and fruits can also help you rehydrate.
A Point on Protein and Caffeine
Get your protein from natural sources like eggs, beans, poultry and nuts rather than protein supplement powders or pills. Protein supplements are expensive and lack the beneficial nutrient profiles of whole foods. Excess protein can be harmful and increase the risk of dehydration. Avoid caffeinated foods and drinks both before and after your workout. These can increase your production of urine and lead to dehydration.
Tips and Tricks
Experiment with different foods and drinks before and after your intense workouts to determine which work best for you. Stay away from foods that are high in sugar or refined carbs, which will cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash during or after your workout. Set yourself up for success by planning your meals and snacks ahead of time. For example, pack a small baggie full of nuts or a peanut butter and banana sandwich in your gym bag so that you have something healthy to eat before or after your workout.
- Colorado State University Extension: Nutrition for the Athlete
- Shape: The Best Foods to Eat Before and After Your Workout
- Best Health: What to Eat After Working Out
- Men's Fitness: Eating for Exercise: The Five Worst Ways to Fuel Up Pre-Workout
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Eating Before Exercise
- Texas Heart Institute: Avoid Heat Exhaustion in Hot and Humid Conditions
- University of Rochester Medical Center: How Intense Is Your Workout?