Have you ever laced up your running shoes only to realize you’re hungry? What do you grab to eat — if anything? Your body needs fuel to exercise, but not all foods will benefit you. Try these healthy eating tips to help you power through your workouts.
1. ADEQUATELY HYDRATE
Proper hydration is essential for athletic performance. When we exercise, our core temperature rises, so we sweat to dissipate the heat. And consequently, we must replace the water we’re losing — being careful not to underhydrate or overhydrate — to help our bodies perform and recover.
Because many factors (temperature, exercise intensity, etc.) affect your sweat rate, it’s difficult to give exact numbers on how much water a person needs to drink. The American College of Sports Medicine offers some general guidelines for fluids during exercise.
-> Pre-workout: Adequately hydrate before exercise. Track your weight, as day-to-day fluctuations likely are from fluid loss (or gain). If your weight is lower prior to exercise, drink about 16 to 20 ounces of water roughly four hours before your workout.
-> During workout: While you’re exercising, let thirst direct your fluid intake. But try not to exceed more than about 27 ounces of fluids per hour, as that might lead to dilutional hyponatremia.
-> Post-workout: After exercising, drink 16 to 24 ounces for every pound of weight lost. Remember to factor fluids into your post-exercise meal.
2. Try Not To Skip Eating Before A Morning Workout
If you like to get up and exercise in the morning, make sure you get some fuel into your body first. Mayo Clinic recommends finishing breakfast at least one hour before your workout to ward off any sluggish or lightheaded feelings. Fill your meal with healthy carbohydrates — such as whole-grain toast with peanut butter or a banana — to maximize energy.
But if you’re not a fan of eating that early in the morning, that’s fine, too. Instead, Cleveland Clinic suggests drinking a small glass of juice. That will give your body the energy boost it needs to exercise while still being easy on the stomach.
3. TIME YOUR PRE-WORKOUT MEAL RIGHT
People vary on how much or little they feel like eating before a workout. But there still are general guidelines that work well for most bodies. “The best pre-workout snack or meal has easily digestible, low-fiber carbohydrates, a small amount of protein and little or no fat,” according to Harvard Health. The carbs provide the necessary sugars to energize your body, and the protein slows the sugars’ release to fuel you for longer.
What you eat and when depends on your workout, Harvard Health says. Here’s what it recommends.
-> If your workout is shorter than 75 minutes: Aim to eat a 100- to 200-calorie snack about one to two hours prior to exercising, and drink a glass of water. Snack recommendations include a slice of whole-grain toast with nut butter or some fruit and nuts.
-> If your workout is longer than 75 minutes: Eat a moderate-size meal about four to five hours before exercising. The meal should be low in fat and include healthy carbs and protein. Also, eat a 100- to 200-calorie snack with some water roughly one to two hours before your workout.
4. DON’T CUT CALORIES, ESPECIALLY CARBS
Even if you’re exercising to lose weight, don’t view calories as the enemy. “Skimping on nutrition can reduce muscle mass, lower bone density and cause fatigue,” according to Mayo Clinic. “This puts you at risk of injury and illness, increases recovery time, causes hormonal problems, and, for women, menstrual issues.”
Instead, make sure you’re consuming enough nutritious foods to fuel your workouts — including plenty of carbohydrates, which some people unfairly associate with weight gain. The more you exercise, the more carbs your body requires. And as long as you make healthy choices, you’ll still shed that extra weight. Mayo Clinic recommends choosing nutritious carbs, such as brown rice, quinoa and sweet potatoes.
5. INCORPORATE HEALTHY PROTEINS AND FATS
Besides carbs, your body also needs healthy proteins and fats to fuel and recover from workouts. “Protein is important because it provides the amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscle,” according to Mayo Clinic. And even if you’re not a meat eater, you still can get adequate protein from foods, including soybeans, nuts, chickpeas and tofu.
Furthermore, fats are key in unlocking many of your foods’ nutrients. “Fat provides energy and helps your body absorb vitamins,” Mayo Clinic says. “Some vitamins (like A, D, E and K) actually need fat to properly benefit your body.” Just make sure you choose unsaturated fats, such as avocados and flaxseed.
6. DON’T FORGET A POST-WORKOUT RECOVERY MEAL
Fueling your body doesn’t stop when your workout is over. In fact, a quality post-workout meal might be the most important part in maintaining your exercise routine. The right foods allow your body to repair and replenish itself, so it’s ready when you exercise again.
“After a long, hard workout, your body is out of glycogen and your muscles are broken down,” according to Harvard Health. “To begin refilling your energy stores and rebuilding your muscles, you need to eat and drink within the first hour after your workout — even if you don’t feel hungry.”
Carbohydrate-rich foods help to replenish the glycogen, and protein works to repair and build muscles. Here’s how Harvard Health recommends structuring your post-workout meal.
-> If you exercised for fewer than 75 minutes: Eat a 100- to 300-calorie snack that incorporates carbs and protein within an hour of your workout. Also, drink 16 ounces of water. An example of a quality snack is a small fruit smoothie with nut butter.
-> If you exercised for more than 75 minutes: Eat a 100- to 300-calorie snack that incorporates carbs and protein within 30 minutes of your workout, and drink 16 ounces of water. Then, eat a 400- to 500-calorie meal with more water within one to two hours of your workout.
Every body is unique, and every workout produces different results. So it’s crucial to listen to your body before, during and after exercise. If you’re thirsty, stop and hydrate. If you’re sluggish, you might need more fuel. And if you feel like you really need an extra rest day, you probably do.
Eating for strength and stamina doesn’t have to be complicated. “Fueling up for activity is as easy as following the well-established rules of a healthy diet: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, consume lean proteins, eat healthy fats, get your whole-grain carbohydrates, and drink plenty of fluids, especially water,” Mayo Clinic says. Simply put, with the proper fuel, you give your body its best chance to perform like the powerful machine that it is.