Your body is, among other things, a kind of instrument, a kind of tool. For those of us who are downright athletic as well as those more likely to take the stairs so we can cross “exercise” off the list, our bodies are the agents vaulting us from stillness into action.
The relationship between nutrition and working out is important, whether you're a gym rat, a player who spends more time on the field than off, or among those who more occasionally break a sweat. People need to treat their bodies with the same respect and care they show their workout equipment, so it’s vital to choose carefully what goes in to fuel it up.
Trying to figure out how (and how much, and what, and when, and so on) to eat best around workouts can be tricky. Here's a helping of tips from nutrition experts:
- Your exercise session isn’t an excuse to eat a Snickers bar. If fitness and weight loss are your main goals—in other words, if you’re not training for the Olympics or sweating through a triathlon, but instead hitting the treadmill or getting your hour of yoga in—there’s no need to alter your normal eating patterns (healthy diets incorporate complex carbs, lean proteins, and fruits and veggies into each meal). A lot of folks down a sports drink at the gym, and then reward themselves with extra food later, which isn’t productive. That said, if you’ve kicked off your sneakers and realize what’s growling is your stomach, and your next meal isn’t for three or more hours, a protein- and carb-rich snack is fine. Try a turkey sandwich or fruit smoothie.
- Intense exercise—workouts longer than an hour, or demanding trainings—call for a little refueling while it’s happening. For these athletes, a sports drink or simple carb food (like a banana) is really key to making it to the end.
- Water, water everywhere. Make sure the case isn’t that there’s “not a drop to drink.” Fill up that water bottle and stick it in your gym bag. It sounds obvious, but the main reason people don’t drink water when they exercise is that it’s not handy. But it’s important to drink when you have the chance as you exercise. Fun fact: Gulping, rather than sipping, actually does get more down! A few fast gulps can do the trick if that’s all you have time for. Save the small sips for later. If you’re exercising for more than 60 minutes, take an electrolyte-containing beverage instead of just water in order to help replete the electrolytes that you sweat out while you’re working hard!
- Avoid fiber and greasy foods before a workout. These can cause stomach upset as you digest, and the volleyball court isn’t an optimal place to be caught off-guard in this way.
- Skip the pre-workout supplements. You might see these in the form of powders to mix with water and drink. They can contain stimulants that lead to cardiac complications when combined with exercise; by and large, it’s wise to say no to this craze on the market now. Where does that leave coffee, you ask? Relax. Your java shouldn’t have too much of an impact. In fact, caffeine can reduce your perception of pain and boost your performance—possible assets to a workout. But again, try not to stray too far from your usual intake.
- Just because you threw in the towel doesn’t mean your food focus should flag. In the hours and days following your exercise, do your best to reestablish your typical diet (assuming it’s a healthy one). Muscles tender? A handful of berries can help, which are replete with antioxidants. A smoothie, particularly if you add in tart cherry juice, ought to soothe the soreness.
Overall, you’ll find that there are some shortcuts to fueling your workout in order to maximize your physical efforts (instead of canceling them out!), but you can’t beat a healthy everyday diet of fresh, whole foods.
Source: Registered dietitians from Food and Nutrition Services Department at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital.