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Grabbing the wrong food before working out is akin to putting the wrong fuel in your car and expecting it to work properly. Our bodies are well-oiled machines; proper nutrition keeps everything humming along. This is especially important when it comes to exercising—both before and after you workout.

 

Before: It’s important to fuel up because we use up energy stores during exercise. Equally important is keeping the right fuel on hand, easily within reach. Stocking our pantries with the right foods increases the likelihood of eating those right foods! Complex carbohydrates like trail mix and bananas make for great fuel sources. These foods break down easily into glucose, our body’s main energy source. Also, complex carbs take longer to break down than simple carbs like white breads, pasta and rice. Hence, I prefer these complex carbs because they effectively prevent a sugar crash right in the middle of my spin class.  I keep a stash of nuts and dried fruits in the pantry for this purpose; sometimes I even try and make granola bars, though still looking for the recipe that I like best!

 

Timing of pre-workout meal: If you haven’t eaten for a while, you won’t have the energy you need to exercise safely and effectively. Conversely, if you just ate, your body won’t be able to adequately metabolize the meal (not to mention the icky feeling of a full stomach while trying to cycle up those hills). Some simple guidelines: either ideally consume a complete meal three to four hours before working out, or a snack two to three hours ahead of exercising, or a piece fresh fruit one hour beforehand.

 

Morning exercisers: It’s not called break-fast for nothing: don’t just pop out of bed to make that 6am spin class! At least grab a piece of fruit before setting out. Not only do you need proper fuel to function, but also you actually just need fuel. Period. A car doesn’t run well on empty, and neither do you. Between the last meal at night and when you wake up, you may have been fasting for nearly 12 hours.

 

After: For recovery, there are two critical things: Replenishing energy used from stored glucose (muscle and liver-stored glycogen) and protein to repair muscles.  Ingesting carbohydrate will replenish your glycogen stores and eating high-quality protein will help to repair muscle damage sustained during an intense and/or long workout. While you can easily eat a supplement to meet these requirements, I am a huge fan of real food. I recommend just planning ahead, because it’s so easy when you’re tired after working out to just grab for the easiest available option. Easy foods to have on hand that are loaded with both carbohydrate and protein: Greek yogurt (and add berries for extra phytonutrient support); or wraps with either lean protein such as turkey or hummus or cheese. When: eat ideally, eat within 30 minutes, but definitely within two hours to maximize the restorative effects.

 

And last, but most certainly not least, fueling your body correctly for peak exercise performance means getting enough fluids!  Don’t forget to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Always have a water bottle with you and remind yourself to stop and sip from time to time. If you don’t have a water dispenser in your refrigerator, then at least keep a pitcher filled with water: add sliced lemons, cucumbers or any other fruits of your choice. This water will help you replenish the fluids that you sweated out while working out.

This post first appeared on drstevenlin.com

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