Properly fueling your body for exercise is an essential component of preparation and muscle recovery. It also helps you get the very most out of your workout, feeding your muscles and systems with the nutrients they need to get stronger, faster, leaner, or bulkier. This is true whether you are just starting out, or you’ve been addicted to the endorphin rush for years. How do you expect your body to perform if it isn’t charged correctly? You wouldn’t put regular gasoline into a Ferrari, would you? And yes, in this scenario, we are all Ferraris.
Fuel Your Body BEFORE Your Workout
As we begin to rev our engines at the starting line, we want to feel powerful, energetic, and excited. Of course, there will always be days when we resist working out in favor of sleeping in or watching TV. We can combat this sluggish urge by fueling our bodies with proper nutrition. Try eating 2 or more hours before exercising. This allows your body to digest nutrients that will help you finish strong. Remember to keep track of your nutrition and exercise on the Lively Habits App!
Protein shakes are synonymous with working out – but would you believe that protein plus complex carbs are what really give you the most energy? And don’t go straight for a protein shake either. They definitely have a time and place, but make sure you do your research and find a quality product that isn’t stuffed with sugar. An article by Harvard actually cautions against protein powders for most people. Instead, go for whole foods that your body can easily break down into core nutrients.
It is recommended that women get 46 grams of protein each day and men get 56 grams. Here are some foods you can eat to get the recommended amount of protein to fuel your body:
- An egg for breakfast (6 grams)
- 6 ounces of plain Greek yogurt at lunch (18 grams)
- A handful of nuts for a snack (4–7 grams)
- A cup of milk (8 grams) and 2 ounces of cooked chicken for dinner (14 grams).
Ok, back to carbs. Carbs are often seen as the enemy, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Surprisingly, they are an essential part of getting your body ready for exercise (not to mention an important part of a balanced diet).
Don’t go for empty simple carbs. These are molecules that have only 1-2 sugars in them, such as candies, cookies, and cakes. Go for the good complex stuff that has 3 or more sugars, allowing your body to build up glycogen stores (which are essential for recovery). We know, “more sugars” seems counterintuitive, but this is natural, unrefined sugar that your body loves. Plus, it won’t give you a sugar rush and, subsequently, a crash.
Carbs also help sustain you while you exercise by fueling your brain and muscles. For light-medium intensity workouts, try to get 200-300 grams of carbohydrates. For longer, high-intensity workouts, aim for 400+ grams. Here’s a good list of ingredients you likely have around the house that are rich in complex carbohydrates:
- Brown rice
- Whole-grain pasta
- Whole-wheat bread or cereal
- Sweet potatoes
Fuel Your Body AFTER Your Workout
You’ve been running for almost 5 miles when you finally see your house looming in the distance like a haven of rest. Your legs are aching but miraculously, they mechanically move one foot after the other without your conscious prompting. Your breathing has settled into a comfortable rhythm that is in sync with your pace, and even your heart rate has calmed as you round the last block. You are sweaty, a little sore, and dying for a glass of cool water, but as you pull up to your house, you have a huge smile on your face.
Post Workout Protein
After a killer workout (or any exercise), allow your body to rest and recover. Give yourself about 30 minutes after a workout to start eating, then celebrate your win by rebuilding those muscles with good nutrients.
Protein is a star when it comes to rehabilitation events. It is rich in amino acids, which help build up and repair your muscles. Essentially, you are breaking down your muscles while you are exercising as you put arms, legs, and abs through strenuous activity. You want to be sure to build them back up even stronger than before.
Here are some protein-rich foods that you can reach for after a workout:
- Chicken Breast
- Cottage Cheese
- Lean Beef
- Turkey Breast
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Brussel Sprouts
Remember to Carbo(hydrate)
Alright, we’re good on post-workout proteins. Another essential ingredient to your post-workout cocktail will be water. Yep, sweet and simple. As you exercise, your body works at regulating your temperature by sweating. When the sweat is evaporated from your body, it takes energy in the form of heat with it, thereby cooling you off. Depending on how strenuous your workout is, you’ll definitely have to rehydrate with at least 8 ounces of water.
What you don’t want to happen is dehydration. Signs of dehydration include headaches, fatigue, dry nasal passages, dry lips, muscle cramps, confusion, and slow reaction times. Make sure to consistently drink water for several hours after your workout.
While you fuel your body with water, munch on some more complex carbohydrates. In fact, you’re looking for a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. During a workout, your glycogen stores are used as fuel – especially during high-intensity exercises. Glycogen is a complex of glucose that is ready to be quickly released into the bloodstream to give you energy. It’s created when we eat carbohydrates, so make sure to refuel your energy stores.
Working out is only half of the formula. Long after you’ve completed your last rep, your body is rushing around trying to rebuild muscles and refill nutrients. Make sure you’re fueling your body with lean proteins, plenty of water, and complex carbohydrates. Thankfully, these ingredients are easy to come by in most whole foods like lean meats, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Ready to keep track of your fitness? Download the Lively Habits App for more resources on a healthy diet, exercise, and more!