I heard you’re working out? That’s great. Exercise is proven to have many benefits, from mood enhancement to preventing disease. While you’re at it, why not get the most out of your exercise by having a closer look at what you eat? The advantages are many, from helping you feel better while you’re working out to recovering faster, and if you’re looking to lose weight or gain muscle, paying attention to what you eat will advance your objectives in a major way.
It’s long been known that you can’t just eat whatever you want even if you exercise a lot. The calories you take in eating an entire pizza take a lot of time to run off. It’s best to have a sensible approach to eating, with an eye to moderation and balance between the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and micronutrients your body needs most, and a good idea of when and how much to eat to fuel your fitness.
Whether you’re strength training or doing cardio, studies suggest you should eat. That’s pretty obvious. But what you take it, and when, depends on what type of exercising you’re doing. If you’re lifting weights or doing some kind of strength training, you’ll want to lean a bit heavier on protein that carbs, as protein aids muscle repair and builds lean muscle. If you’re doing cardio, you want to make sure you’re getting enough carbohydrates before you start, as carbs provide your body with energy to fuel your exercise.
Either way, you should eat before working out. If you work out in the morning, make sure you start with a healthy, balanced breakfast. If you’re lifting weights, carbohydrates should comprise around 75% of your meal, with 25% coming from protein. You definitely want to consume protein before working out, especially if you’re focussed on gaining muscle. Consider a protein-rich smoothie or oatmeal. If you’re doing cardio, 75% to 100% of your meal can come from carbs. So cereal with milk or oatmeal are great options.
Need some ideas for how to boost your protein? Here are a few.
During your workout
The key here is to stay hydrated, which is essential for helping your body regulate its temperature and generally function properly. Other than that, in most circumstances you don’t really need to eat during workouts as long as you’ve fuelled properly pre-workout. The exception is during long bouts of exercise, such as running or cycling for 90 minutes or more. In these cases, you might need to take in some carbs. But don’t wait until you bonk—start after 30 or 40 minutes, and only eat foods and drinks that won’t upset your stomach.
Are you a vegetarian? Here are some solid sources of protein from plants.
Eating protein after a strength-training workout is a good idea. It’s been shown to aid muscle growth, and at a much higher rate than when you’re at rest. The idea is to consume protein within one or two hours of lifting: 20 grams is often cited as a starting point. You’ll also want to take in carbohydrates, which helps replenish your muscles’ glycogen reserves, which are heavily used during resistance exercises. Something like, I don’t know, Chicken Chili Verde is a great option.
After a cardio workout, the main thing is to rehydrate, preferably with plain water. Shorter duration cardio workouts don’t deplete your muscle glycogen like weightlifting does, so there is less need to go carb-crazy after a 5 km or even 10 km run. Long cardio sessions of an hour or more may require you to refuel your energy stores with carb-y snack.
What are your workout food tips? Let us know in the comments and on Twitter at @Luvoinc.