Most of you have heard that the amount of energy we take in must be less than the amount of energy we burn off in order to lose weight. Energy we take in comes from food and beverages. We burn energy by keeping our bodies running and by exercising. But did you know that what you eat can have a big impact on your physical fitness? Whether you work out every day, on weekends, or occasionally, eating well can help you prime for a better workout, perform at your best during a workout, and recover after a workout.
To prime yourself for an upcoming workout, it is important to eat a meal or snack containing healthful carbohydrates and protein before working out. If you would normally eat a meal prior to your workout, simply make sure that the meal contains healthful carbohydrates and protein. If you normally would not eat a meal before your workout, make sure to have a small snack containing carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred fuel source during high intensity activities. Healthful carbohydrate-containing foods include fruits, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whole grains, and starchy vegetables. Protein is the building block of muscle. Healthful protein-containing foods include lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, unsalted nuts, nut butters (such as peanut butter), and soy foods. Eating both carbohydrates and protein before a workout tells your body it has the energy it needs and that the building blocks for future muscles are available. As far as timing your pre-workout meal or snack, experiment with what works for your body. A general rule of thumb is to aim to eat 1-3 hours before you plan to exercise. Some people find they have discomfort if they eat too close to the time they work out. Explore eating at different times before a workout to see what works best for you!
While you are exercising, be sure to hydrate. Water is your body’s best option for hydration. Sports drinks often contain added sodium and sugar, which we generally do not need to add to our diets. The calories provided by the sugar in the sports drink may negate the calories you burn working out.
As soon after your workout as possible, have a snack that contains carbohydrate and protein. Healthful examples include a banana and peanut butter, yogurt and berries, or an egg sandwich on whole wheat bread. Carbohydrates help replenish your body’s depleted energy stores. Protein helps your body rebuild and repair your muscles.
Try having a carbohydrate- and protein-containing snack before and after your next workout! Find options that work for you. And make sure to try eating at different times before a workout to find the optimal time for you. Your body will thank you for providing it with the energy and nutrients it needs!
Lynn Grant R.D., L.D., CDE is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She works at Capital Region Medical Center and provides diabetes education and outpatient nutrition counseling by appointment.