Being well-nourished and physically active is vital in order to achieve optimal health. They enable us to successfully carry out our daily activities, and are protective against cardiac disease, type 2 diabetes, various cancers, high blood lipids, and obesity.
Depending on the individual, as well as the intensity and duration of his or her exercise participation, nutrition needs pre- and post-workout vary. Our bodies thrive on adequate carbohydrates, fats, and proteins at baseline; however, we use more glycogen (stored carbohydrates/sugars) during high-intensity workouts, and more of our fat stores during lower-intensity workouts.
Fats take the most time to digest, followed by protein. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are quickly absorbed and provide us with immediate energy. For this reason, depending on the amount of time between eating and exercise, the amount and composition of your intake beforehand is significant.
For those who exercise in the morning, if there isn’t adequate time to eat and they aren’t experiencing light-headedness or a decrease in energy during the workout, their bodies will happily use the nutrients they already have stored. This is acceptable, particularly for those interested in weight-loss or maintenance. However, eating a small amount of healthy carbohydrates (ex. ¼ or ½ cup of oatmeal, a slice of whole wheat toast, or a small banana, etc.) 30 or more minutes before exercise is ideal, especially for people who are looking to build muscle mass. If they have an hour or longer before their workout, combining protein and fat along with a larger serving of carbohydrate is ideal (ex. whole wheat toast with nut butter, Greek yogurt with fruit, veggies and hummus; or a meal of a vegetable omelet, fresh turkey on whole wheat bread, etc.). Too much fat or protein will slow the gastric emptying rate and, hence, absorption of glucose. Consider your individual goals, needs, and the amount of time between eating and exercise; proper nourishment before heading into a workout will provide your muscles with the energy needed to optimally perform.
Strenuous, prolonged exercise results in a depletion of muscle glycogen, which is the body’s primary source of stored energy. While protein synthesis lasts up to 48 hours post-exercise, research recommends getting post-workout nutrition within a couple of hours; this is when our muscles are hungriest for nutrients, which aids in their repair and growth. Having a snack or meal that has a ratio of 3:1 carbohydrate grams to protein grams is recommended after an intense workout, or a ratio closer to 2:1 after a less strenuous session.
· Pre-exercise nutrition needs depend on the time of day you exercise and your specific goals
· Eating a serving of carbohydrates with a small amount of protein prior to your workout will provide your body with optimal nutrition and energy
· The suggested amount of food to eat following a workout depends on multiple variables, but a number of recovery foods are effective
· After a high-intensity workout, recovery nutrition should take place within 30 minutes, followed by a meal within 2 hours
· The post-exercise snack or meal should be well-balanced, and include both protein and carbohydrates
· Chocolate milk contains a great ratio for carbohydrate:protein recovery, particularly for very intense, high volume workouts
· Eggs and chicken are great sources of protein that contain all of the essential amino acids
· Nutrient-rich carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes, are an excellent option for glycogen replenishment
Main take away: Eat as soon as possible after a workout. It will help prepare you get the most out of your workout and also prepare you better for your next one.
Blake Brie is graduate from Tulane University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. Blake is pursuing a UVa Health System Dietetic Internship who recently completed a rotation in the IM-Rec Sports Fitness and Wellness program.