Regardless of whether you work out to lose weight, build muscle, enhance health or compete in sports, what you eat before, during and after a workout affects your results. Ideally, you fuel properly to perform at your best without feeling weak, sluggish or nauseous. What you eat should assist you in meeting your workout goals--more power, more muscle, less fat or better health. Choose foods wisely and your workouts and body will reward you.
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Overall performance depends on how you fuel before a workout. If you plan on a cardiovascular activity such as a run or an aerobics class, try to take in a carbohydrate-rich, low-fat snack one-half to two hours before activity. Early morning workouts in particular suffer without a snack; you have essentially fasted all night and are asking muscles depleted of glycogen to perform all-out. Carbohydrates provide quick energy and digest rapidly, so they won't weigh you down. With those carbs, include a small amount of protein to help squelch hunger. Examples of good pre-workout foods: a banana with a half ounce of almonds, yogurt with a drizzle of honey, crackers with peanut butter, or a serving of whole grain cereal with milk.
The size of your pre-workout snack depends on the intended duration and intensity of your exercise session. If you're going on an all-out cardiovascular workout lasting more than an hour, you should take in a 300- to 400-calorie snack a few hours before working out. A lighter, shorter workout requires only about 200 calories. Remember to hydrate before you begin to exercise. Try for about 20 ounces water in the two hours leading up to your session.
Water should be enough to sustain you during an hourlong workout. The American Council on Exercise recommends 7 ounces to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise. If you intend on completing a cardiovascular session lasting longer than an hour, a sports drink with electrolytes and carbohydrates is recommended. Nutritionists also suggest about 30 grams of carbohydrates be consumed every 30 minutes on long sessions. Gels and chews provide these carbohydrates and give you the extra boost you need to perform lengthy workouts without overwhelming your digestive system.
Eating after you exercise helps muscles repair and refuel. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a serving of carbohydrates to be consumed within 30 minutes of a strenuous workout. Some protein with carbohydrates helps your glycogen stores repair even faster. A study examining the effectiveness of drinking chocolate milk post-workout published in a 2006 edition of the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed that a combination of carbohydrates and protein helped athletes recover from intense exercise. Post-workout drinks including chocolate milk and protein smoothies make ideal snacks because they offer hydration as well as nutrients. Other good choices post-workout are a turkey sandwich, an ounce of cheese with an apple, soy nuts with juice or (again) cereal with milk.
Strength training workouts require post-workout fuel as well. The focus after a strength routine is on protein to help with muscle synthesis. Shoot for 20 grams to 40 grams of protein within 90 minutes of finishing your session. Whey or soy protein shakes, a cup of cottage cheese or 3 ounces of deli turkey with a banana make great options after strength training.