Eating for Fitness: 7 Expert Tips to Help You Maximize Your Workout
Whether you are just embarking on a new exercise regimen or are an athlete training for an upcoming event, what you eat can have a significant impact on your performance. Along with sleep, your diet is essential for providing the energy and stamina needed to keep your body going. Knowing when and what to eat and understanding the connection between exercise and food can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your fitness program.
Here are seven of the most important tips to help you build strength and perform at your best.
1. Don’t Skip Breakfast
Breakfast is important because when you wake up (hopefully after a good 7–8 hours of sleep), your blood sugar is low, because you haven’t eaten in several hours. So, you need to “break your fast” with some food to increase it.
In addition, eating breakfast can help you work out for longer, at a higher intensity, particularly if you consume carbohydrates. Carbs provide energy because the body converts them into glucose, which your cells, tissue, and organs need to function. If you often feel sluggish or lighthearted when you exercise in the morning, that’s a sign your breakfast may not be substantial enough.
If you exercise in the morning, you should ideally leave at least an hour’s gap between finishing your breakfast and starting your workout to allow for digestion. If leaving an hour’s gap before eating and training simply is not possible, eat or drink something light, focusing on carbohydrates for maximum energy.
2. Monitor Portion Sizes
Eating too little before exercising may result in a lack of energy, while eating too much can leave you feeling fatigued before you even start. Typically, you should leave a gap of at least three hours between consuming a large meal and exercising, and one hour after eating a small meal.
3. Eat Snacks
Most people can eat a small snack before, or even during, exercise. However, keep in mind that everyone is different, and it is important to listen to your body. Snacks eaten immediately prior to exercise are unlikely to provide added energy, but they could help to stabilize blood sugar levels to prevent hunger pangs.
A healthy snack is particularly important if your workout session is scheduled several hours after your last meal. Try nuts or sunflower seeds, fruit paired with cheese or nut butter, whole grain crackers or bread with nut butter, yogurt mixed with granola, energy bars, hardboiled eggs, or veggies and hummus.
4. Eat After Exercise
Just as it is important not to exercise on an empty stomach, it is also vital to consume both carbohydrates and protein within two hours of your exercise session. This replenishes glycogen stores in muscles, helping them to recover.
If you find you lose your appetite after an intense workout, sipping fruit juice or a sports drink can help replenish carbohydrates quickly. In terms of post-workout snacks and meals, good options include fruit, yogurt, a meat or peanut butter sandwich, dried fruit and nuts, or a regular meal incorporating starch, protein, and salad or vegetables.
Research suggests you should ideally consume 30 grams of protein within three hours of starting your workout, particularly if you did not consume protein in the three hours leading up to your workout. Doing so helps to increase insulin levels, delivering nutrients to cells and suppressing muscle breakdown. It also stimulates muscle protein synthesis, helping the body to repair, strengthen, and grow muscle fiber
Drinking water helps your body regulate its temperature and replace fluids lost to sweat. It also helps lubricate your joints. The American College of Sports Medicine advocates drinking two to three cups of water prior to your workout, half to one cup every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise, and two to three cups after your workout for each pound of weight you lose throughout the session.
6. Consume Probiotics
Probiotics help populate the gut with beneficial bacteria capable of improving digestion and nutrient absorption. Some research also suggests that probiotics may help prevent allergies and colds and offer relief from skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, although there is still some debate about these claims.
Probiotics include Lactobacillus, which is found in fermented dairy products like yogurt; Bifidobacterium, found in some dairy products; and Saccharomyces boulardii, a type of yeast.
Good sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and fermented foods like kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, and pickled cucumbers. Apple cider vinegar is technically not a probiotic, but many dieticians consider it as such since it contains “good” bacteria.
7. Choose Healthy Fats
Research suggests that unsaturated fats (those that are from plant sources and are liquid at room temperature) help to reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. There is wide agreement that polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are healthier choices than the saturated fats found in butter, lard, red meat, and cheese.
Good sources of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated include seeds, nuts, olives, avocados, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and vegetable oils like canola, corn, sunflower, and olive oils.