It’s a beautiful thing. Your body is a super-powered machine designed to convert food (aka calories) into potent kinetic energy, feeding that powerful squat or sprint with every bite. Of course, not all calories are created equal and there’s true science behind what your body needs before and after you workout. Not surprisingly, your system runs on different types of fuel for different needs. Timing is also a big factor and knowing when to get your nutrition in both pre and post workouts are critical to your optimum performance and recovery. If you don’t eat enough of the right types of macronutrients at the right time, you can actually ‘undo’ the beneficial effects of the workout before you ever get started. So, before you got hot and heavy into your fitness regimen, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Timing is everything. Enjoy a balanced macronutrient meal around 2 ½-3 hours prior to exercise in order to allow for digestion. Combine mostly high quality carbohydrates like beans, slow-burning grains, fruit and starchy vegetables with some protein and a little fat to get you going and help sustain your energy as you move through your workout.
- If you’re working out early in the morning or don’t have that kind of lead-time, a protein shake or energy bar with balanced macros comes in handy. This is when carbs are really necessary, because your body will convert them into available energy quickly. Don’t be scared to have them!
- If you are doing an endurance or long distance event for over 2-3 hours, you can add an electrolyte-rich beverage or easy-to-digest food to your diet to help keep your glucose levels sustained. Coconut water or a banana can do the trick. Otherwise, you may experience what cyclists call ‘bonking’ - when you’ve consumed what was left in the fridge and now the pantry is empty, so to speak.
- As a post workout meal, enjoy a good portion of quality protein – chicken, fish, eggs, beans, a protein shake or high protein greens/grains - and fats like avocado, nuts, seeds and other quality foods within 2 hours of completion, but ideally within an hour. This is when your body needs the proteins to convert into amino acids for muscle repair and building. Remember, fat alone won’t make you fat! Your body wants to burn those fat calories after exercise and high quality fats will help you feel more satisfied and full.
- The serving sizes of your meals will vary on a lot of factors, including your age, build, type of exercise and overall goals. In general, the average active woman needs at least 1500 calories if she’s trying to lose weight. The goal is to spread these out at 3-4 hour intervals throughout the day to keep your metabolism firing and your blood sugar stabilized.
- Don’t forget to hydrate! Drinking water throughout the process will help keep your cells happy and flush the lactic acid from your muscles while you exercise. Drinking water post exercise is extremely important for your recovery.