how to fuel up for exercise

How to Fuel Up for Exercise

Have you ever noticed that your long jog on Monday seems a little easier after that Sunday pasta dinner? It’s no coincidence.

Carbohydrates are the fuel that helps keep our bodies running. But there is more you can do to optimize your diet in preparation for your average vs. intense workout.

Megan Bryson, a Virtua fitness specialist, and April Schetler, a registered dietitian, offer their advice for planning your calorie intake to match your exercise routine.

Eating Before Exercising

It’s important to plan a meal 3-4 hours in advance of your workout. Schetler suggests avoiding high fat, high fiber foods. This helps ensure that the food has digested before you begin, directing the blood flow to your muscles instead of your stomach.

An hour before you start, prepare your body with a mixture of carbohydrates and protein.

  • 30 Minute Jog: A slice of wheat toast with peanut butter or a piece of fruit provides enough carbohydrates and protein to sustain you.

  • Intense Workout: A hearty bowl of oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts will provide a more generous source of carbs and protein so that you don’t burn out too quickly.

  • Marathon: For going the distance, Bryson suggests the concept known as “carb loading.” Eating a whole wheat pasta dinner the night before, followed by a morning bowl of oatmeal with fruit will provide the extensive carbohydrates needed for long-term energy release.

Don’t Forget Hydration

Remember that you lose a lot of water when you sweat, so you must rehydrate. Water is usually best, although sports drinks do help restore depleted salt and potassium after hard workouts. Think about the level of environmental heat you will experience as well. According to Schetler, the color of your urine is the perfect metric: Light yellow (like lemonade) indicates hydration.

  • 30 Minute Jog: Drinking water a couple of hours before light exercise helps your body prepare to lose water. Approximately 3 to 8 oz. every 15 minutes will help top you off just before and during your jog.

  • Intense Workout: The harder the workout, the more you sweat. Drinking at least 4 cups (32 oz.) of water a few hours before your workout should prepare you well. Then remember to drink water during your workout to stay hydrated.

  • Marathon: For long runs, you need to begin your hydration plan a week in advance. You’ll also need to rehydrate during the run, the perfect time for sports drinks.

Post-Workout Meals

It’s tempting to give into junk food cravings when you’re feeling the burn. But it’s just as important to eat responsibly after your workout as it is before your workout.

A smoothie is a trendy choice, but Schetler warns you to include fruits (carbohydrate and natural sweetness), vegetables (spinach blends great) and protein (Greek yogurt of low-fat milk) and remember that the calories add up fast. Consider a smoothie a true meal replacement.

  • 30 Minute Jog: Bryson suggests trying yogurt with granola, fresh fruit or a handful of nuts like almonds for healthy light snacks. April reminds you to rehydrate and follow up with a well-balanced meal within two hours (50% vegetables, 25% lean protein, 25% whole grain).

  • Intense Workout or Marathon: After a hard workout, you’ll probably need a hearty recovery snack within 15 minutes to an hour. Megan and April recommend a glass of low-fat chocolate milk or even a protein shake to get the right balance of carbs, protein, fat and hydration. Protein bars are also very convenient, but April suggests being selective about the brand since many contain too much added sugar.

Updated June 6, 2016

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