Food as Fuel - Before, During and After Workouts

Updated:Apr 4,2014

Water Bottle, Apple and WeightYour body is your vehicle, so you got to keep your engine — your heart — running when you work out. 

That means fueling up your tank with the right foods and your radiator with the right fluids, using with right amounts at the right times.

“You don’t have to adhere to a rigid schedule and there are no hard-fast rules,” said Riska Platt, M.S., R.D., a nutrition consultant for the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. “But there are some things you should do before, during and after you work out.”

Before: Fuel Up!
Not fueling up before you work out is like “driving a car on empty,” said Platt, an American Heart Association volunteer. You also won’t have enough energy to maximize your workout and you limit your ability to burn calories.
Ideally, fuel up two hours before you exercise by:

  • Hydrating with water.
  • Eating healthy carbohydrates such as whole-grain cereals (with low-fat or skim milk), whole-wheat toast (without the fatty cream cheese), lowfat or fat free yogurt, whole grain pasta, brown rice, fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoiding saturated fats and even a lot of healthy protein — because these types of fuels digest slower in your stomach and take away oxygen and energy-delivering blood from your muscles.
    If you only have 5-10 minutes before you exercise, eat a piece of fruit such as an apple or banana.
    “The key is to consume easily digested carbohydrates, so you don’t feel sluggish,” Platt said.
During: Make a Pit Stop
Whether you’re a professional athlete who trains for several hours or you have a low to moderate routine, keep your body hydrated with small, frequent sips of water.
You don’t need to eat during a workout that’s an hour or less. But, for longer, high intensity vigorous workouts, eat 50-100 calories every half hour of carbohydrates such as raisins, an energy bar or banana.

After: Refuel Your Tank
After your workout, it’s time to refuel with:
  • Fluids. Drink water, of course. Blend your water with 100% juice such as orange juice which provides fluids, carbohydrates and potassium.
  • Carbohydrates. You burn a lot of carbohydrates — the main fuel for your muscles — when you exercise. In the 20-60 minutes after your workout, your muscles can store carbohydrates and protein as energy and help in recovery.
  • Protein. Eat things with protein to help repair and grow your muscles, including a whole grain bagel, baked potato, peanut butter sandwich, etc.  
    It’s important to realize that these are general guidelines. We have different digestive systems and “a lot depends on what kind of workout you’re doing,” Platt said.
    So do what works best for you. Know that what you put in your body (nutrition) is as important as you what you do with your body (exercise). Both are crucial to keeping your engine performing at its best.
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This content was last reviewed on 03/22/2013.

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