Eat Right Before, During, and After Exercise

What to Eat before Exercise

Nancy Cohen, a professor in the department of nutrition at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, recommends eating carbs (in moderation) before exercising. If you exercise for more than an hour, then Cohen recommends eating one to four grams of carbohydrates per every 2.2 pounds of body weight. Per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended daily caloric intake is 2,000 calories. Therefore, a person should aim to consume about 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates.

As for when to eat, Cohen argues it’s not good to make a habit of exercising on an empty stomach. “If you haven’t eaten in a long time, your body is in a fasted state. Normally, your body will use glucose for fuel and begin to break down muscle glycogen to deliver the glucose your body needs for exercise. In a fasted state, the muscle glycogen will be depleted sooner. Your body will then turn to breaking down fats for the energy it needs,” Cohen said. If this occurs often, then it will lead to ketosis or keto-acid buildup in the blood. Over time, ketosis can harm the kidneys and cause fatigue and dizziness. So though it may burn fat, Cohen says that it isn’t “beneficial in the long run.”

To avoid ketosis, as well as fatigue, which can reduce the effectiveness of the workout, Cohen recommends eating about an hour to four hours before working out. Additionally, she suggests eating eggs, cereal and milk, toast with peanut butter, or fruit and yogurt to fuel a morning workout.

What to Eat during Exercise

Staying hydrated while working out is critical. For workouts that last 45 minutes or less, fluids are typically all that’s needed. For workouts lasting longer than an hour, Cohen says to “aim for 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. This will provide carbohydrates to fuel the exercise to supplement the muscle glycogen.”

Choosing which foods and beverages that are high in carbohydrates depends on the comfort of the individual. Cohen suggests juice, sports drinks, granola bars, and fruit. Since solid food sits in the stomach, which can cause discomfort, it may be best to stick to liquids since they’re easily digested.

What to Eat after Exercise

After a workout, it’s important to eat protein, such as dairy, eggs, meat, and poultry.  Cohen says, “After long or very high-intensity workouts, consuming 1 to 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per hour for four to six hours, along with 15 to 25 grams of protein within the first hour after exercise, will replenish muscle glycogen stores as well as support muscle protein synthesis.” As for lighter workouts, Cohen recommends a well-balanced meal with protein and carbs, as well as fluids to replace losses. Ultimately, a post-workout routine should include the three Rs: fluids to re-hydrate, carbohydrates to refuel, and protein to repair. Get all three with a post-workout smoothie!

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