We know diet plays an important role in health and weight loss, but when it comes to food and exercise, many people don’t know when or what to eat before and after working out.
Knowing which types of food to eat (and when) can drastically improve the way your body responds to exercise. You need the right combination to fuel your workout, and to help your body recover and rebuild.
A common question is “should I eat before I workout?” The simple answer is- YES! To get through intense physical activity, you need energy. Where does energy come from? Food!
Asking if you need to eat before a workout is like asking if you need gas before taking a car trip.
There are many chemical, hormonal, and metabolic processes that happen in your body before and after exercise, and the right nutrients are needed to make them happen.
So we know one should eat before working out- now the question is WHAT and WHEN.
If you are working out later in the day, try to have a good meal 2-4 hours before you hit the gym. It should be high in carbs, moderate in protein, and low in fat and fiber.
The carbs and protein will give you the fuel needed to push through your workout, and keeping fat and fiber low makes it less likely you’ll have to run to the bathroom mid-session.
If you exercise first thing in the morning or need a snack an hour before your sweat sesh, it’s best to have something light and easily digestible like a banana or yogurt. It is a good idea to stick to a higher G.I. carb rather than something with fat and protein that digests more slowly.
(The G.I. scale ranks carbohydrates based on their effect on blood sugar. The higher the G.I., the faster the spike. An example of a food with a high G.I. would be white rice or dried fruit. A moderate G.I. food would be oatmeal or sweet potato.)
What you eat after your workout is just as important. Your body needs food to help it recover and repair.
Whenever possible try to eat within an hour of completing your workout. This allows the body to immediately begin restoring energy reserves and repairing muscle tissue.
Protein is your go to food after you are done exercising because that’s what the body uses to repair tissues and build lean muscle. Having a small serving of a moderate to high GI carb with the protein has been shown to speed it’s effects and jump start the recovery process.
A scoop of whey protein with half a banana or some tuna with a rice cake are perfect choices for post-workout food.
It doesn’t matter if you eat a small snack or a full meal after the gym (just don’t over eat, negating all your hard work.) Aiming to eat within 30-60 minutes will likely dictate what your post-workout food is.
Some people suggest working out on an empty stomach is more effective for fat loss based on the idea it forces the body to burn energy from fat stores since none is readily available from recent meals.
I’ve done a lot of reading on this subject, and while some swear by it, research has yet to prove it. Exercising too hard on an empty stomach can also be dangerous, and can negatively affect the quality of your workout.
The reality is, there is no shortcut or secret to losing weight and burning fat. Eating right, exercising daily, and indulging in moderation is the best way to reach your health and fitness goals.