With so much attention on fad diets and trends, it’s easy to forget about how nutrition actually fits into your fitness routine. A strong nutritional foundation is vital for fueling your muscles during a workout. Making the wrong food choices before and after working out can sabotage your fitness goals by denying your body the proper nutrients it needs to perform! Following these simple suggestions can help you make the most out of your workout.
Pre-Workout Nutrition: Fuel Your Body the Right Way
Choosing the correct pre-workout snack can make huge difference in your overall performance. Without a solid nutritional base, your body is essentially running on empty. You’ll experience low energy and slow reaction speeds after only a short period of working out and limit your calorie burning potential. Consuming healthy carbohydrates and easily digestible foods as opposed to high protein and high fat options will help you reach your fitness goals faster. Hydrating with water should be a top priority before, during, and after your workout to prevent dehydration.
Healthy Carbohydrates: Oats, whole wheat toast with honey, and brown rice with vegetables are full of healthy carbs that will fuel your workout without stressing your digestive system. Oats are full of fiber, which means they gradually release carbohydrates into your bloodstream, and also packed with Vitamin B which helps convert carbs to energy.
Bananas: The workout super-fruit! Bananas are packed with potassium which aids in maintaining nerve and muscle function, and easily digestible carbohydrates which help fuel your body during strenuous activity. You should consume a medium sized banana a half hour prior to your workout to help maintain nutrient and energy levels. Bananas are especially good for morning workouts as a healthy and energy packed breakfast along with low-fat yogurt.
Energy Bars: In a pinch, nutrition bars can be a great pre-workout snack if chosen correctly. Energy bars should have the correct ratio of more carbohydrates to less protein and fat. Tara Gidus, M.S., R.D., a sports dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association suggests choosing a bar with 25 to 40 grams of carbohydrates, no more than 10 grams of protein, and 100 to 200 calories. Eating a healthy bar can give you a great energy boost that powers you through even the most taxing workout. Warning: Be sure to read the nutrition label on energy bars – oftentimes they are laden with trans fat and sugar despite being marketed as a healthy pre-workout snack.
During Your Workout: Stay Hydrated
The most important element of nutrition during your workout it is to avoid dehydration. While working out, your body is losing water at a faster than average rate from increased breathing and sweating. Dehydration leads to dizziness, muscle fatigue, and mental confusion. Water keeps your entire body lubricated and aids in overall movement as well. Drinking water throughout the day, especially before, during, and after a workout, will keep your performance level consistent and also keep you focused! If you’re feeling sluggish during a workout, carbohydrates and electrolytes found in common sports drinks can help to delay fatigue, but you should be wary of too much sugar which can cause an unexpected energy crash.
Post Workout: Recovery Nutrition
Your workout might leave you craving a large and often unhealthy snack, but choosing the wrong food can derail your fitness progress! It is important to consume a nutrient rich meal or snack within 30 minutes of your workout to replenish lost protein, carbohydrates, and fluids. This short window of time is when your body is able to incorporate new nutrients most effectively. Protein is necessary for supporting muscle repair and growth while carbohydrates help to replenish glycogen, the carbohydrate stores that your muscles use for energy during a quality workout!
Low-Fat Chocolate Milk: This surprising treat is a great post workout snack because of its ideal ratio of protein to carbohydrates. With one glass you will restore and replenish lost nutrients while hydrating your body as well. If you’re unable to digest dairy, try a Soy or Almond based alternative!
Greek Yogurt and Fruit: Greek Yogurt is a low calorie power food that packs high levels of protein and calcium-two nutrients that are great for muscle repair and bone health. Certain fruits, like cherries and pineapple, have anti-inflammatory qualities that also help soothe your body post workout.
Quick snacks like trail mix, heart healthy nuts, pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, and potassium rich fruit like bananas can be kept on hand to eat directly after your workout! Throw a few of these items in your gym bag and you’ll never resort to the vending machine to satisfy your post workout cravings again.
The easiest way to know if you are consuming the right post workout fuel is to see how you feel during your following workout. If you aren’t adequately replacing carbohydrates, you will feel sluggish and tire more easily during your next workout due to insufficient muscle repair and nutrient replacement. If you went on a long drive that drained your gas tank, but didn’t remember to refuel, the next time you get in the car you’ll run out of gas very quickly; your body works in a similar way and will operate much more efficiently on a full tank!
Nutrition Killers: Avoid these Common Food Mistakes
Before your workout, you should avoid fatty foods and too much sugar. Too much fat, especially trans fat, is hard to digest and will leave you feeling sluggish and tired during your workout. While carbohydrates are vital to maintaining energy during a workout, avoid sugars that can sabotage your energy levels and leave you crashing mid-workout. Remember to give yourself enough time, anywhere from two hours to 30 minutes, to digest your meal or snack to avoid feeling nauseous or actually vomiting during a workout. As with any fitness and dietary program, you should consult with your doctor about the best plan for your individual needs.