Fuel Up to Workout

Summer is here, along with the desire to get (or stay) in shape for the season. Have you ever wondered if all that effort you’re putting into your workout is helping you reach your goals?

We often forget that diet is an important part of this equation. What foods are you eating before and after exercising? Are you getting the most out of your intake? Read on to learn the best advice for fueling your body on workout days.

Before Workout Nutrition

On days you will be physically active, it is important to start your routine fueled up and ready to go. After all, a car can’t run without gas right? “Carbohydrate” is the mantra you should remember.  This is the macronutrient that gives us the energy we need to not only get through a workout, but also to get through the day. Carbohydrates are digested faster than other macronutrients, so they are more readily available as an energy source than fat or protein. When the body does not have enough of this fast-acting energy, it will burn lean muscle tissue as its fuel source – which is not what you want to happen when you have been working hard at building muscle!

Quick Tip: Try having oatmeal with a cut up banana at least a half-hour before a workout. Bananas are loaded with digestible carbohydrates and also potassium, which is an electrolyte that aids in maintaining nerve and muscle function.  (If you are working out a few hours after eating a meal, you may only need a banana to get you through your exercise routine.)

During Your Workout

On days that you are physically active, particularly in hot conditions, it is important to stay well hydrated. Remember to drink water even when you are not thirsty, as thirst is a late sign of dehydration. Water is fine if the exercise is of short duration. If the exercise is longer than one hour, the fluid should contain carbohydrates and electrolytes. The addition of carbohydrates to a fluid replacement drink helps the intestines absorb water and maintains blood sugar concentration during exercise, which may preserve energy stores and delay fatigue.

Quick Tip: About two hours prior to strenuous exercise, drink approximately 20 ounces of liquid to ensure proper hydration at the onset of exercise and avoid excessive fluid and electrolyte losses.  Aim to drink about 3 to 8 ounces every 15 minutes while working out. If you are exercising for longer than an hour, check out this link for great tips on choosing the best sports drink for adequate hydration.

After Your Workout

It is very important to provide your body with protein after a workout, as this will help build and repair muscle. Just be aware to keep daily protein intake at a level that is appropriate for your weight. This can be calculated by dividing your weight (in pounds) by two. For instance, a moderate exerciser who is 150 pounds will need about 75 grams of protein per day.

Quick Tip: Low-fat chocolate milk is all the rage as a post-workout muscle builder and repairer. Try drinking a cup during the first 15 to 60 minutes after exercise to replenish glycogen (energy) stores and repair muscles. Not convinced? One eight-ounce glass provides about 200 calories as well as necessary carbohydrates, protein, potassium, sodium, vitamin D and calcium in a readily available, easily digestible liquid form. Can’t have milk? Try fortified chocolate soymilk for a great alternative.

About the author:

Beth Johnson is a dietetic intern at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is a local girl, and a graduate of Framingham State University, with a love for nutrition. She enjoys working with the community, sharing healthy tips and writes a quarterly food & nutrition column for LEL (Local Equestrian Lifestyle) magazine.

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Our Be Fit Nutritionists are comprised of dietetic interns studying at Massachusetts General Hospital. During their internship, they receive training on acute care nutrition, ambulatory and community nutrition, food service systems management, and research. Their comprehensive work is done in collaboration with registered dietitians.

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