In today’s health conscious world, exercise is fast becoming a very popular way to stay fit and fine. And as any ardent health and fitness enthusiast will tell you, in addition to exercise, a balanced food plan is equally essential to ensuring a toned figure.
So in order to better understand what foods are good for you, you need to know that all the energy you need for life as well as for exercise comes from what you eat and fluids you drink.
When should you eat?
In addition to the food you eat, when you eat is equally important. Exercising on a full stomach is not ideal. Food that remains in your stomach during an exercise session may upset your stomach or cause nausea and cramping. To reduce stomach discomfort and still ensure you have enough energy, you should allow a meal to fully digest before starting. This generally takes 1 to 4 hours, depending upon what and how much you've eaten.
What should you eat?
Depending on when you prefer to exercise, you can plan your diet accordingly:
- If you have an early morning workout, it's best to get up early enough to eat your pre-exercise meal. Because glucose is a highly preferred energy source, a pre-exercise meal should include foods that are high in carbohydrates and easy to digest, such as sports bars or cereal bars (oatmeal) or a banana.
- If you like to exercise in the afternoon, make sure to eat your lunch 4 hours before your exercise session. It is recommended to consume complex carbohydrates that are easy to digest. You can also snack on a banana or muesli bar with a cup of coffee 1½ to 2 hours prior to exercise.
Just remember, the closer you are to your exercise session, the lesser you should eat. And if you have very little time before you exercise, have a drink rather than a solid meal because your stomach digests liquids faster. Possible fluids include energy drinks or beverages that contain electrolytes/minerals (such as sodium and potassium) and simple sugars to help sustain fluid-electrolyte balance and maintain exercise performance.
What shouldn’t you eat?
Fatty foods remain in your stomach a long time and can be very difficult and slow to digest. So it is advisable that you avoid meats, doughnuts, fries, potato chips and candy bars in your pre-exercise meal.
What should you eat after exercise?
The first good thing you should do is drink water to replace the fluids you have lost. To help restore glycogen levels in your muscles, you can eat fruit or drink fresh juice within 15 minutes of exercising.
This post-exercise meal is critical to recovery because it improves your ability to train consistently. Combining protein with carbohydrate within two hours after exercising nearly doubles the insulin response, which results in more stored glycogen.
Water, water, water! Hydration and exercise
Hydration in general is very important, and even more so during exercise because it enhances your performance and replaces the fluids you lose when you sweat!
- Drink about 2-2½ cups of water 2-3 hours before you start
- Drink 1-1½ cup 10-15 min before you begin your session
- Drink 1-1½ cup every 10-15 min
- If exercising longer than 90 minutes, drink 1-1½ cup of a sports drink (with no more than 8 percent carbohydrate) every 15-30 minutes
- Weigh yourself before and after exercise and replace fluid losses
- Drink 3-3½ cups of water for every 1 lb (1/2 kg) you lose
The longer and more intensely you exercise, the more important it is to drink the right kind of fluids. If you are an athlete who’s exercising at a high intensity for 60 minutes or more, then you will need a sports drink. High intensity exercise includes: running, cycling or any activity that exceeds 1 hour, leads to excessive sweating and requires a high amount of energy. But if you are an active person who trains regularly for an hour, you can drink plain water, which is always the best choice.
Caffeine and physical performance
New research suggests that consuming 90mg of caffeine (a cup of coffee contains around 75mg of caffeine) can enhance the performance of athletes involved in endurance exercise, short and long duration as well as high intensity exercise!
Additionally, it also gives you more energy to workout and decreases the feeling of fatigue during the last minutes of your workout. And if you’re concerned about the diuretic effect of coffee, you needn’t worry, because with a healthy diet and an adequate daily water intake, the effect of caffeine is insignificant and very mild. To be more specific, up to 300 mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to 3 to 4 cups of soluble coffee per day, will not alter your body fluid levels.
Recommended foods according to your exercise type
|1 hour or less before workout
|2-4 hours before workout
|Early morning workout
|Cereal bar, dried fruits or a sports drink
|Fresh fruits, vegetable juices, bread, bagels, low-fat yogurt, cereal, or muesli with low-fat milk
|Balanced breakfast for example: low-fat milk and whole grain breakfast cereals, and fresh fruit
|Light to moderate workout during day
|Fresh fruit apples, watermelon, peaches, grapes, orange juice, tomato juice and water
|Cereal bar, pasta with tomato sauce, baked potatoes, or whole-wheat cheese sandwich
|Chicken, tuna, turkey or cheese sandwich with vegetables, and fresh fruit or juice
|Water, sports drinks (Up to 1 and half cup of a sports drink)
|Pasta or whole-wheat bread sandwich (4 hrs before), fresh fruit, and cereal bar
|Water and sports drink
|Whey protein bars or shakes, and tuna or chicken or cheese sandwich
Whatever your objective, be it to reduce your weight, tone up, or simply stay fit, remember that proper nutrition and hydration is the key to enhancing your performance. For better results ensure you drink water regularly and have a daily diet that is balanced and varied. The best way to do this is to make sure that your everyday fare contains all the main nutrients: carbs, proteins and a bit of healthy fat, which will give your body all the vitamins and minerals you need.
So the next time you take out your training bag and head to the gym, remember that your exercise can be made even more effective by simply taking care of what you eat and drink.