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By: Vanessa Leikvoll, Certified Holistic Health Coach, Client Wellness Manager
Co-author: Melissa O’Shea, RD
With Spring on the way, now is the perfect time to ramp up your workouts! Whether you're an exercise fanatic or just getting started, any movement you can build into your day is beneficial to your overall physical and mental well being. Regular exercise can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, manage blood sugar and aid in weight management. And of course, it’s a great stress reliever! No matter what your go-to workout is, it’s important to fuel your body appropriately so that it can perform its best. Most people know not to work out on a completely empty stomach, but when it comes to fueling for fitness, you’ll want to consider what and when you’re eating to get the MOST out of your workout. Do you know which foods will help enhance your endurance? And what should you be eating after your workout to maximize results? Read on to take your workouts to the next level.
Before we jump into these details, it’s better to first understand what is happening in your body while you’re exercising. When you’re on the treadmill or the spin bike or doing sprints during a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) class, your heart rate is in an elevated state. In this elevated state, an increased supply of oxygen is being delivered to your muscles through your blood stream (fun fact: your face turns red during a workout because this oxygenated blood is rising to your skin’s surface to prevent you from overheating.) If you’re new to exercising regularly, it may take your heart a little while to become efficient at delivering this oxygenated blood around, but once it does, you’ll notice an improvement in your overall endurance, and you’ll find that you’re able to exercise longer and harder.
In this elevated state, your lungs, brain, joints, and bones are also receiving increased blood flow, leading to improved functionality across the board. You may, for example, feel more clear-headed and focused after you exercise. This is due to the increased oxygen and blood flow to your brain during your workout (and the endorphins that have been consequently released as well). This ‘runners’ high’, as many runners refer to it, is this feeling of heightened physical functionality and emotional disposition after a workout.
So now let’s talk about why fueling your workout is so important. If you try getting into a car without any gas, you won’t get very far. The same holds true while exercising. If you set out on empty, chances are you aren’t going to get much accomplished. The right fuel will prevent you from feeling fatigued and lethargic, so you get the best workout possible. A little fuel will also prevent your blood sugar levels from dipping too low.
How much fuel you’ll need depends on how long and also how intense your workout will be. Pre-workout, the focus is on carbohydrates. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 15g of carbohydrates for a workout less than 60 minutes and at least 30g if exercising longer than an hour. In terms of what to reach for – what works for one person may not work for another. This is where a little experimenting comes into play to figure out which type of food works best for you. While you always hear whole grains and lots of fiber is good for you, this is one place where cutting back on fiber is a good idea. A high fiber meal right before exercise can lead to stomach discomfort. The same goes for fat. A high fat meal will likely leave you feeling sluggish throughout your workout. When it comes to pre-workout snacks, reach for easily digestible simple carbohydrates that will break down easily and give you instant energy. Here are some ideas to try:
Workouts under an hour:
- 1 small piece of fruit (bananas are great)
- Handful (about ½ cup) of low-sugar cereal, such as cheerios
- 4 ounces low-fat plain yogurt
Workouts longer than 1 hour
- ½ cup cooked oatmeal + ½ medium banana
- 1 slice whole grain bread with 2 teaspoons all-natural nut butter
- 1 brown rice cake topped with 2 Tablespoons of hummus
For more information on good simple carbs, visit www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/diet/good-carbs-bad-carbs/.
Try to eat something 30-90 minutes before you head out the door. This means if you exercise after work, you’ll need a snack at some point after lunch. This is important, though, because if you eat a carb – even a simple one – too close to the start of a workout – your body will still be digesting it when you start, which you don’t want. And wait too long and the energy from the food you ate will have already been used up. The goal is to avoid feeling starved or stuffed when you begin your workout.
And what should you reach for post-workout? What and when we eat after our workout is essential for proper recovery. The goal now is to stabilize your blood sugar, replenish electrolytes, and restore calories burned for adequate muscle recovery. Aim to eat something within 30-60 minutes when muscles are most efficient at using nutrients for recovery. Carbohydrates and protein are two essential nutrients our muscles need to recover and get stronger. Think Greek yogurt and fruit, a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, chicken and brown rice, or a fruit smoothie with milk.
We hope that this information will help you better fuel your body pre and post-work out so that you can reach your fitness goals. As Hippocrates puts it, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Here are some recipes that we recommend to help you stay on track!
Pre-Work Out Snack - Cocoa Almond Smoothie
½ frozen banana
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder (baking section)
1-2 teaspoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons almond butter
½ -3/4 cup almond milk (unsweetened)
3-4 ice cubes
Preparation: In a Blender (Vitamix or NutriBullet), place frozen items on the bottom. Blend.
Post-Work Out Snack - Edamame & Veggie Rice Bowl
½ cup cooked brown rice
1 cup roasted vegetables
¼ cup edamame
¼ avocado, diced
2 tablespoons sliced scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons Citrus-Lime Vinaigrette
Arrange rice, veggies, edamame and avocado in a 4-cup sealable container or bowl. Top with scallions and cilantro. Drizzle with vinaigrette just before serving.
To make ahead: Refrigerate dressing and bowl separately for up to 5 days