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Eat to Fuel Your Workout – Restore Energy & Build Muscle

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If you’ve committed to making exercise a part of your life, ensuring your body is getting the fuel it needs is important. When you exercise, your body uses energy stored in fat and muscle tissue to power your movements. Eating the right foods can help you be more successful with your workout.

Start With a Healthy Diet

No matter what your fitness goals are, it starts with a healthy diet. Jackie Welter, ACE-CPT, USPA COACH, and health and fitness specialist at SamFit recommends a Mediterranean-style diet which emphasizes protein, fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, dairy and healthy fats.

“Your body needs the mixture of protein and carbohydrates that are found in a balanced diet,” said Welter. “Protein helps with building muscle while carbs help replace energy. Fruits, veggies and healthy fats supply the other nutrients your body needs to operate well.”

What to Eat Before You Workout

If you exercise first thing in the morning or after work, your body may need a snack to give you energy before you start. While it won’t hurt you to exercise on an empty stomach, pay attention to how you feel. If you feel lightheaded, nauseous or extremely fatigued your body is telling you it needs some nutrition.

The American Dietetics Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend a snack that is high in carbohydrate and moderate in protein. Avoid foods that are high in fat or fiber, as these can take longer to digest and feel uncomfortable during your workout. Try foods like:

  • Nut butter on an apple or banana
  • Greek yogurt and fruit
  • Hardboiled egg and whole wheat toast
  • Whole grain crackers and a slice of turkey
  • Glass of dairy or soy milk
  • Energy bar with a high carbohydrate to protein ratio; about 3:1

Time your workout so it is three to four hours after a regular meal or one to two hours after a snack. If you need to eat something right before you exercise, keep it light like a piece of fruit.

What to Eat After You Workout

Following your workout, your body has tapped into its energy stores and you may be feeling a little tired or shaky. What your body needs to recover depends on how long and how hard you exercised.

  • If you are jogging, taking a fitness class or doing resistance training and your total time was less than an hour at moderate intensity, you should be fine until your next meal. Eat from all the major food groups to fill you up and get the nutrition you need.
  • If you are doing endurance exercise that lasts longer than 90 minutes you may need some nutrition mid-way to keep you going. Raisins, energy bars or sports drinks with carbohydrates are good choices every 45 to 60 minutes. Eat a snack with both carbs and protein or a meal within two hours after you finish to help restore energy and repair muscles.
  • If you are doing high-intensity interval training, your body is using much more energy during a short amount of time than if you were jogging or doing another moderate intensity activity. Eat a snack with both carbs and protein or a meal within two hours after you finish to replenish lost energy and repair muscles.

Remember to Hydrate

Keeping yourself hydrated is a key part of any fitness regimen. Drink at least eight ounces of water after you workout, more if you were sweating a lot or exercising for a long period of time.

“Even if you are exercising for weight loss your body still needs fuel,” said Welter. “You want to eat what you need to feel good and get the best result from your workout.”

Get fitness training tailored to your health goals at SamFit.

Read more of our many articles on exercise and improving your fitness.