With a brand new year finally here, we have a fresh start and opportunity to make some life-changing choices, especially concerning our health and fitness. It’s easy to get pumped-up and excited, but it’s important to take the time to learn the best ways to create new fitness goals. Many myths and articles about pre and post- workout nutrition exist. Some tips are genuinely helpful, but many do more damage than good. Don’t get discouraged! As you plan for a healthy new year, consider these 5 science-based nutritional facts to truly boost your fitness routines.
- It’s All in the Timing
As we prepare for a hard run or hit the gym, it’s tempting to “gear-up” with a full meal. It seems to make sense. After all, we need the proper tools for a good workout. Unfortunately, the idea of exercising on a full belly is a bad idea for many reasons. Although we do need a certain amount of carbs for a healthy, challenging workout, our meal timing is a critical fact to consider. Research shows that “nutrient timing” is an important factor when it comes to muscle growth, increased endurance, and fat loss.
Skip heavy meals directly before a workout. Instead of a packed plate of high-calorie goodies, choose light carbohydrates and proteins such as a peanut butter sandwich or a bowl of plain Greek yogurt. Other pre-workout snacks include nuts, apples, raisins, or simple oatmeal recipes. Protein and carb smoothies and shakes are also a great way of stocking up on energy for your workout. Enjoy your snack or drink between 1-3 hours before exercising; this gives your body time to digest the nutrients and tap into your energy reserves.
- Picking Your Nutritional Tools
Depending on your fitness level and your exercise routines, your pre-workout diet is very unique. Although we all have the same nutritional tools available, not every tool is used the same way. A greater level of carbs, proteins, and fats are necessary high endurance athletes such as runners, bikers, and swimmers. Carbohydrates break down quickly and the body stores them as energy within the liver. Proteins and fats break down at a slower level, allowing the body a steady source of energy during endurance-heavy activities.
For shorter, high-energy activities such as boxing, sprinting, and other cardio routines, fast energy sources are critical to avoid mid-workout weakness and extreme fatigue. Healthy carbs are the perfect source of fast-acting energy. Protein is also a vital tool to protect the muscles from damage. Protein allows the body to repair itself faster and regain strength and energy both during and after your workout.
- Staying hydrated
In addition to a balanced pre-workout diet, our bodies also need a steady supply of hydration to keep fluid levels balanced. Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it takes in. When physically challenged, the body produces greater levels of heat as it burns energy. The increase in body temperature leads to intense sweat production. Over the course of an hour of exercise, some individuals lose as much as 1-3 quarts of body fluid. If this fluid is not regularly replaced, dangerous conditions such as heat exhaustion and post-extreme endurance syndrome (PEES) occur. Symptoms of PEES include:
- Abnormally low body temperature
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle cramping
- Inability to drink and keep fluids down
Staying hydrated during exercise is crucial to keep your energy levels up and attain your fitness goals. Stay hydrated by consuming about 17 to 20 ounces between 1-3 hours pre-workout. This isn’t enough, however. Keep your hydration up by drinking another 8 ounces during warm-up and regularly consuming between 7-10 ounces every 10-20 minutes of exercise. This may seem like a pain to keep track of, but staying hydrated is an absolute must when it comes to staying healthy and meeting our fitness goals. Dehydration is a dangerous risk; It can lead to serious health conditions such as kidney failure, heart and blood disorders.
- Post-workout Meals
Following your workout, your body’s energy levels are depleted and your blood sugar is low. Have a good post-workout snack or smoothie ready to replace the lost nutrients. A healthy post-workout meal allows your body to recover from the high-energy needs, repair muscle, and rehydrate. It can be tricky if your body seems to crave junk food or sugary snacks. These cravings are a sign that your body is seeking immediate sugar and energy replacement. Instead of choosing easy, unhealthy snacks, pick a post-workout meal packed with healthy proteins and carbs to help re-balance low blood sugar and rebuild muscle.
Avoid highly processed, refined carbohydrates and proteins such as pastries or desserts, chocolate, salty or sugary snacks, and sugary drinks such as sodas. Although these provide energy, they cause drastic blood sugar spikes that leave your feeling worse. Instead, choose wholesome carbs and proteins such as lean meats, eggs, cooked vegetables such as sweet potatoes and broccoli, fruits, and balanced protein shakes and smoothies. These proteins and carbs break down with more balance and allow your body to naturally stabilize following your workout
- Rehydrating and Re-balancing
Although drinking water before and during your workout is critical, our body’s hydration needs don’t stop after we leave the gym. At least half an hour after a workout, be sure to drink at least an addition 8 ounces. The more you sweat and the higher the intensity of your workout, the greater your fluid needs will be following exercise. Keep your water bottle hand and force yourself to keep sipping as your cool down.
In addition to water, our body often loses electrolytes. The minerals are critical to our body’s function, especially the nervous system. Our electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, phosphate and sulfate. Instead of reaching for a sugary sports drink, choose these easy electrolyte-friendly snacks to rebalance your levels. Chia seed and many fruits and vegetables are easy ways to restabilize your body’s minerals levels.
2017 is a brand new year and the fitness opportunities are endless. Take time to plan your workout routines and learn what nutritional tools will give you the biggest boost. The key to fitness begins with what we eat and drink.