There are many opinions as to what you should eat before, during and after your workouts. The reality is that your body is your vehicle, so you’ve got to keep your engine — your heart — running while you work out.
That means fueling up with the right foods before your workout, hydrating with the right fluids throughout your regimen, and eating the right amounts at the right times.
“You don’t have to adhere to a rigid schedule, and there are no hard-fast rules,” says Riska Platt, M.S., R.D., a nutrition consultant for the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. “But there are some things you should do before, during and after you work out.”
Before your workout: eat healthy carbs, hydrate with water
Not fueling up before you work out is like “driving a car on empty,” says Platt, an American Heart Association volunteer. You also won’t have enough energy to maximize your workout and you limit your ability to burn calories.
Ideally, fuel up two hours before you exercise by:
- Hydrating with water
- Eating healthy carbohydrates such as whole-grain cereals (with low-fat or skim milk), whole-wheat toast (without the fatty cream cheese), low-fat or fat-free yogurt, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, fruits and vegetables
- Avoiding saturated fats and even a lot of healthy protein — because these types of fuels digest slower in your stomach and take away oxygen and energy-delivering blood from your muscles
If you only have 5-10 minutes before you exercise, eat a piece of fruit such as an apple or banana.
“The key is to consume easily digested carbohydrates, so you don’t feel sluggish,” Platt says.
During your workout: hydrate with water
Whether you’re a professional athlete who trains for several hours or you have a low to moderate routine, keep your body hydrated with small, frequent sips of water.
You don’t need to eat during a workout that’s an hour or less. But, for longer, high intensity, vigorous workouts, eat every half hour 50-100 calories of carbohydrates such as raisins, an energy bar or banana.
After your workout: have fluids, healthy carbs and protein
After your workout, it’s time to refuel with:
- Fluids. Drink water, of course. Blend your water with 100 percent juice such as orange juice, which provides fluids, carbohydrates and potassium.
- Carbohydrates. You burn a lot of carbohydrates — the main fuel for your muscles — when you exercise. In the 20-60 minutes after your workout, your muscles can store carbohydrates and protein as energy and help in recovery.
- Protein. Eat things with protein to help repair and grow your muscles, including a whole grain bagel, baked potato, peanut butter sandwich, etc.
It’s important to realize that these are general guidelines. We have different digestive systems and “a lot depends on what kind of workout you’re doing,” Platt says.
So, do what works best for you. Know that what you put in your body (nutrition) is as important as you what you do with your body (exercise). Both are crucial to keeping your engine performing at its best.