Scientists have long known that what you eat before, during, and after exercise can make or break a workout and possibly affect your fitness results.
So what do nutritionists recommend for eating? It turns out that quality carbohydrates are important before training and lean protein after training, experts say.
What to eat before exercise
Eat carbohydrates before exercising, but not too much, said Nancy Cohen, a professor in the nutrition department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
She recommended consuming 1 to 4 grams of carbohydrates for every 2.2 pounds of body weight if you plan to exercise for more than an hour. To put that in perspective, a medium banana has around 27 grams of total carbohydrates.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that if you get 2,000 calories a day, you should consume between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates, according to the Mayo Clinic.
When should you eat? About an hour to four hours before exercising, Cohen said.
A review article by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia suggests that carbohydrate ingestion may improve endurance exercise performance. The article was published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2011.
The researchers evaluated 50 previous single or double-blind randomized studies on carbohydrate intake and resistance exercise. The researchers concluded that the data in the studies provides evidence that carbohydrate consumption can improve resistance exercise performance in adults.
Research on how quality carbohydrates can influence exercise performance, especially endurance exercise, dates back to the 1930s.
“By eating carbohydrate-rich foods that are low in fat and low or moderate in protein, you can ensure you have enough muscle glycogen as fuel for your physical activity. This could include low-fat granola bars, fig bars, peanut butter and sandwich with gelatin, banana, yogurt, pasta or other carbohydrate-rich foods, “said Cohen.
“Sufficient fluids are also important,” he said. “In general, you can consume 5 to 10 milliliters of water per kilogram of body weight in the two to four hours before a workout.”
If you prefer to sweat in the morning, experts are divided on whether you should eat early.
It should be your own decision whether to eat breakfast before or after exercise, said Stuart Phillips, a professor at McMaster University in Canada and director of the McMaster Center for Nutrition, Exercise and Health Research.
“I train before breakfast every day because that’s when I like to exercise. I don’t have anything more than maybe a cup of coffee most of the time or maybe a toast. My big breakfast comes later. But that’s not to say that. It’s good or bad. That’s what I do, “said Phillips.
However, Cohen said it is important not to get used to exercising on an empty stomach.
“If you haven’t eaten in a long time, your body is fasting. Normally, your body will use glucose for fuel and start breaking down muscle glycogen to supply the glucose your body needs to exercise. On an empty stomach, muscle glycogen will be depleted. sooner. Your body will break down into fats to get the energy it needs, “Cohen said.
“This can lead to ketosis or buildup of keto acids in the blood, which can be long-term damaging to the kidneys and cause fatigue and dizziness,” he said. “While exercising on an empty stomach can burn fat, it doesn’t appear to be beneficial in the long run. And, if fatigue means you can’t exercise at full capacity, you won’t be able to stay as effective a workout, either.”
Cohen recommends eating eggs, cereal, and milk, peanut butter or fruit toast, and yogurt to fuel a morning workout.
What to eat during exercise
One of the most important things you should do during exercise is hydration, and if your workout is 45 minutes or less, fluids may be all you need to continue, Cohen said.
“For endurance exercises of one to two and a half hours, aim for 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. This will provide carbohydrates to fuel the exercise to supplement muscle glycogen,” said Cohen. For example, a medium apple has approximately 25 grams of total carbohydrates.
“Depending on the sport and the comfort of the individual, a variety of foods or drinks could be useful here,” he added. “Juices, sports drinks, granola bars, fruit, and other foods and drinks that are high in carbohydrates can be helpful.”
Phillips agreed, saying that liquids are more easily digested.
“Solid foods sit in the stomach and, for many people, that causes discomfort. Therefore, mostly liquids,” he recommended.
What to eat after exercise
After exercise, eat protein, Cohen said, such as dairy products, eggs, meat and poultry.
“After long or very high intensity workouts, consuming 1 to 1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per hour for four to six hours, along with 15 to 25 grams of protein within the first hour after exercise, will replenish muscle glycogen stores as well as supporting muscle protein synthesis, “said Cohen.
In perspective, a hard-boiled egg contains approximately 6 grams of protein.
“After lighter workouts, eat a well-balanced meal, including high-quality protein and carbohydrates, within two to three hours after finishing, and drink enough fluids to replace the losses,” added Cohen.
What happens if you experience muscle pain after exercising? Some studies suggest that certain fruit juices, such as watermelon juice and cherry juice, can reduce muscle pain after exercise.
For a small study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2010, 54 healthy runners ran an average of 26.3 kilometers, or 16.3 miles, over a 24-hour period.
Some of the runners were instructed to drink bottles of sour cherry juice twice a day for seven days before and on race day. Others received a placebo drink. The runners were then asked to assess the level of pain they felt before and after the race.
The researchers, who reported no conflict of interest in the study, found that runners who drank cherry juice reported a significantly smaller increase in pain after the race compared to the placebo group.
In general, a post-workout routine should include fluids to rehydrate, carbohydrates to refuel and protein to repair, Phillips said.
“In recovery, we talked about three Rs,” he said of the post-workout routine. “So I like the sources that all three provide, like liquid milk or a smoothie made from milk and yogurt with berries.”