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What to eat before and after exercise

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

To get the best results from your workout, it’s important that you’re eating the right things before and after you exercise. Proper nutrition is essential to improving your endurance and preventing injury, keeping your body in the best condition to reach optimum performance levels. By following these guidelines, you can make the most of your fitness plan and start seeing results faster. Here’s what you need to know…

How your body uses fuel

First, it can be useful to understand how your body uses energy while exercising, and how different types of foods will help and inhibit your weight loss. When you do aerobic exercise- that is, exercises that focus on endurance over long periods of time, like cycling, jogging or swimming- your body uses carbs as fuel to start with. When it runs out of carbs, it starts burning fat.

When you do short-term, high-intensity exercises (anaerobic activity) such as strength training, your muscles use up lots of carbs in the form of glycogen, which is a complex sugar. Repetitive and vigorous training can easily use up most of the carbs stored in the muscles. So here’s how you can use this information to make the most of your workouts…

Before exercise

Make sure you’ve eaten a nutritious meal about an hour before you exercise to keep you going strong throughout your workout. Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates, like whole-grain pasta, rice and bread, or fruits and vegetables. Complex carbs are easy to digest, and will give you plenty of energy to sustain you throughout your exercise, allowing yourself to really push your body to get the optimum results.

Avoid simple sugars like lollies for at least an hour before you exercise, as they will cause your blood sugar to drop during your workout. It’s important to make sure you don’t suffer low blood sugar levels when you exercise, as this can cause jitters and dizziness, which stops you from training as long and hard as you normally could.

It’s also important to make sure you are well hydrated before you work out. Drink 500-600 ml of water in the one or two hours before exercising. This will help you to reach your optimal physical performance, as well as providing resistance to injury and maintenance of normal body temperature.

During exercise

Make sure you take a water bottle to the gym and keep drinking throughout your workout. It’s recommended that you drink 100 to 200 ml for every 15 to 30 minutes of exercise. If you’re doing intense exercise for prolonged periods of times, you might consider sports drinks, which contain simple carbohydrates and electrolytes. Just remember to check the nutrition label- drinks with up to 10% carbohydrates (most good sports drinks) can help improve endurance, as they enter the bloodstream quickly and deliver glucose to active muscles effectively, but drinks with more carbs than that (like fruit juices and soda) should be avoided, as they can cause cramps and nausea.

After exercise

After your workout you should have a small snack that is rich in complex carbs, so you can restore your muscle-glycogen levels. An hour later, you should have a nutritious, protein-rich meal to repair damaged muscle tissues.

You will also need to rehydrate your body, so make sure you drink some more water. One way of figuring out how much you should be drinking is to weigh yourself before and after you exercise. Any weight lost in that time will be water, so drink one to two cups for each half-kilo lost.

Following these guidelines can help you to get the most out of your workout. You’ll find that your energy levels will improve, and you’ll be more able to reach your optimum performance. Be kind to your body- listen to what it needs, and you’ll be seeing better results in no time. 

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