We all know we need to exercise to stay fit and healthy. What's the point of working out in the gym if you don't have the right fuel to do it effectively?
Being in tune with your body and knowing what you should eat will help you achieve your workout goals more quickly. Fitness nutrition and eating fitness-focused foods don't have to be complicated; you need to know the right formula.
You've likely heard of sports nutrition; the market is worth $15.6 billion after all. But what are protein, carbs, snacks? What works?
Let's take a look at why healthy eating and working out go hand in hand and how to fuel yourself right.
Pre-Workout Nutrition - When To Eat
Starting a work out when you are fatigued and low on energy is never going to give you the best results.
There are theories that fasted cardio helps you burn fat more quickly. However, exercising before eating is not always a good idea. Your body can end up turning to proteins for energy instead of your fat stores.
If you use proteins instead of fat stores, it can cause damage to your muscles.
When you fast before training, you don't necessarily burn more calories than when you eat before. You may also see a weaker performance if you fast before training.
Want peak performance? Then you need to eat two to three hours before you train.
What To Eat Before The Gym?
So you should be eating before working out, but what should you eat to master that peak performance?
You need carbs. There's a reason that runners carb load the night before a big race. Carbohydrates are what fuel your body.
The amount you need to eat will depend on how long and hard you intend to work out and how heavy the weights you want to lift are. If you're going for a short half-hour jog, you won't need much to eat before. A 20-mile run, you will need some serious fuel.
Something with carbs and a little protein that isn't unhealthy is the ideal pre-workout snack.
Try out one of these healthy snacks:
- Natural protein bar
- Banana smoothie
- Apple with some nut butter
- Piece of whole-wheat bread with peanut butter
- Trail mix
- Yogurt with fresh fruit
The critical thing to keep in mind is that your pre-workout fuel is healthy.
You don't want to eat fries or cookies. Yes, they have a lot of carbs and calories that you could use in your work out. But they aren't nourishing foods that will give you sustained energy for your exercise.
Try to steer clear of processed foods and refined sugar. They will make you feel lethargic and maybe even sick when you are working out.
Post Work Out Fuel - When To Eat
After you work out, your body is under stress and needs to recover. Intense exercises damage your muscle fibers and need to recover. When your body recovers, those damaged muscles grow back bigger and stronger.
Refueling your body is part of this process of muscle growth. Eating something healthy after healthy exercise helps reduce the damage done to your muscles and will help you recover quicker.
Try to eat in the hour after you work out. This will optimize the process of your body restoring the amino acids lost through the work out.
What Should You Eat After A Workout?
Your body needs protein after you work out. Depending on the intensity of your work out, you will have different needs.
If you are working out for the purpose of staying fit, around 20g of protein will be enough. Gym addicts who go for intense workouts every day and are trying to build muscle will need a higher protein intake.
Where should you healthily get this protein? Here are some excellent post-workout snacks:
- Fruit like apples, bananas, kiwis
- A wrap with some lean protein like chicken
- A protein bar
If you are rushing off somewhere after the gym, a protein shake can be a great option. It's a quick way to replenish some of the lost nutrients. Protein shakes are also good because we often don't feel like eating real food after an extensive exercise session.
Remember not to overeat after you exercise, though! It can be tempting to pile on the calories after we work out as we feel like we earned it or should reward ourselves with food. If you are trying to maintain a healthy weight, this attitude can be detrimental to achieving your goals.
Try to keep the amount you eat relative to how hard you go with your exercise.
Build Healthy Habits Around Fitness Nutrition
The best way to manage your fitness nutrition is to create some habits around it. If you know you'll workout on a set day, plan your meal times around the work out. Prepare snacks to bring with you; always keep a banana and some nuts in your gym bag.
If you make it as easy as possible to fuel yourself with healthy snacks before you work out, you won't end up eating unhealthy, processed junk you grab on the go.
Trial and Error
When dealing with fitness nutrition, the best way to find out what works best for you is with trial and error. You may find that eating several hours before you work out is way too far in advance. Test your timings and what you eat to establish when you perform best.
You can do the same for post work out fuel. See what makes you feel best after you work out and whether different foods impact your muscle growth. You'll figure out what is most efficient for you.
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