What to eat before, after exercising

9:43 AM, Jan 9, 2014   |    comments
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KUSA - What you eat can affect how you feel and perform, making it vital to provide your body with the essential nutrients and energy to help you feel good and allow for optimal physical activity.

Exercise requires fuel, which comes from food; however not knowing what to eat before and after exercise can hinder your performance just as much as a good diet can help it.

Here are a few important strategies you can follow that will help fuel your game, competition, and workout success.

It is important to provide your body with proper energy before working out in order to achieve optimal exercise performance.

The ideal pre-exercise meal will have five different characteristics:

  1. low fat
  2. moderate in complex carbohydrates and lean proteins
  3. low fiber
  4. contains fluids
  5. made of familiar, well tolerated foods

Start with a snack or meal with healthy carbohydrates, such as whole-wheat breads, quinoa, brown/wild rice, as well as, fruits, and vegetables to fill energy stores and provide a quick fuel source for your muscles.

Carbohydrates provide a majority of your energy during high intensity, short workouts; however, it takes at least 30 minutes for sugar to enter the bloodstream so eat plenty of time in advance.

Include protein, to help build and repair muscle tissue; this can also help reduce post-exercise soreness.

It is important to get the right amount of fuel before a workout, getting too much or too little can cause decreased performance and uncomfortableness.

If it is difficult to eat before exercising or you are nervous before a competition, try a liquid meal. Eating too much or too soon before a workout, however, can make you sick or lethargic.

The general guideline is if you eat a large meal wait at least three to four hours before exercising; if you eat a small meal wait two to three hours before exercising, or if you eat a snack wait an hour before exercising.

Ideas of pre-exercise foods include:

  • Toast with nut butter and a fruit
  • Fruit with Greek yogurt and almonds
  • Oatmeal with a banana and skim milk
  • Low-fat cheese with whole grain crackers and fruit
  • Lean meat (such as chicken or fish) with a salad or fruit bowl
  • Turkey and Swiss sandwich and a side of fruit

Good post-workout food options include:

  • Yogurt with fruit and granola
  • A (protein) smoothie without added sugars
  • Low-fat milk and fruit
  • Peanut butter or lean meat and cheese sandwich
  • Brown rice and beans with a whole grain tortilla
  • Two boiled eggs with tomatoes and whole wheat English Muffin

Before, during, and after exercise it is important to stay hydrated. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking:

Before exercise:

  • 16-20 ounces of water at least 4 hours before exercise
  • 8-12 ounces of water 10-15 minutes before exercise

During exercise:

  • 1/2-1 cup of water every 15-20 minutes during your workout (you may need more depending on your body size and if you are exercising in a hot or humid environment)

After Exercise:

  • 20-24 ounces of water after a workout for every pound of weight lost during the workout.
  • Check the color of your urine. When you're hydrated, your urine will be a light straw color.

It is advised to drink chilled fluids, as these are absorbed faster and can help cool your body temperature.

Recreational athletes should drink water for hydration and do not need sport drinks, which have a lot of extra sugars and calories.

However, if you are exercising for more than 60 to 90 minutes (particularly in hot, humid conditions), sports drinks can provide you with necessary carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium.

Sports drinks can also be good for athletes who participate in extremely strenuous exercise, such as people running marathons, triathlons, or soccer.

Getting enough liquids is important to replace fluids lost through both sweat and respiration, which can lead to dehydration. Dehydration then can lead to fatigue and can impair your performance.

Don't wait until you are thirsty to drink, because this means you are already reaching dehydration. Experiment with your needs during training to find the best combination of fluid to drink before, during, and after exercise

Eating protein and carbohydrates is necessary after a workout to help muscles recover and replenish glycogen (carbohydrate) stores in the liver and in your muscles.

Protein is especially important to have after a workout because it helps repair and build muscles and regenerates blood cells, which deliver nutrients and oxygen to muscles.

The best time to deliver protein to your muscles appears to be within 15 to 45 minutes of exercise. Providing high quality protein following exercise gives your muscles the necessary building blocks and fuel needed for both repair and growth.

Nutrition is a vital aspect in performance and exercise ability. By knowing your body and how it responds to different foods and drinks, you can maximize your workout and feel better at the same time. Using the tips provided above, you will be on the right track to fuel your body for success.

Written by Michelle Cardel, PhD, RD. Cardel is a nutrition scientist and registered dietitian at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, University of Colorado Denver. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MichelleCardel for daily nutrition and health tips!

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