When reaching your fitness goals, what you eat plays a significant role in how well you will do. Your nutrition strategy is the catalyst for noticeable results behind the effort you put in. However, many people still do not know the basics to get started with eating for exercise. Here are five tips you need to implement now.
Protein , Carbohydrates, and Fat
Protein, carbohydrates, and fat are the primary nutrients of the body called macronutrients. You need to ingest them since your body cannot make them on its own. They each serve distinct purposes in the body and in terms of eating for exercise.
Protein– Although protein is not the primary fuel source for exercise, it serves an important purpose. It’s essential for muscle growth and repair. Although eating enough protein can help build muscle, too much can cause issues in the body like excess fat, dehydration, and kidney burden. Therefore, it’s essential to follow the guidelines to prevent excess protein.
Carbohydrates – The first source of fuel your body reaches for, and close to half of your daily energy should come from carbohydrates. It is an efficient source of fuel because it does not need much oxygen to burn it. It is excellent in high-intensity, short-duration activities. Carbs are stored in the muscle and liver, but they fuel the brain as well. Make sure you follow the guidelines, so you do not go over your daily needs.
Fats– Fats are the second source of fuel for exercise. Although it is a more concentrated fuel source for the body, it is not as efficient as carbohydrates. Because it needs more oxygen to help burn, fat is recruited more in low to moderate intensity activities. Think longer endurance aerobic exercise. Although carbohydrates and protein provide most of the body’s needs for energy, fats are dense in calories providing 20-30% of the daily need.
Eating Before Exercise
When eating for exercise, it is important to fuel your performance beforehand. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred fuel source, and eating them before exercise will help you perform longer at a higher intensity. If you eat before exercise, try to eat 1 to 3 hours before. If you eat too close to your workout, it might cause some discomfort since blood rushes away from your digestion to your muscles. This can make it feel like a block in your stomach.
For me, I exercise very early in the morning, and it might be too early for a complete meal. Since I am short on time, I grab a quickly digestible carbohydrate like an apple to fuel my exercise and drink black coffee for energy. Here are more pre-workout meal ideas:
- One banana
- Yogurt and granola
- A fruit smoothie with protein powder added
- 1 handful of nuts
- A bowl of whole-grain cereal and dairy-free milk
Post Workout Fuel
Try to eat something at least 30 to 60 minutes post-workout to assist in muscle repair and support muscle-building. A post-workout meal should contain a mix of carbohydrates and protein. Protein is helpful post-workout, especially if your goal is strength and building. If you can’t aim for a full meal, try having a protein shake to hold you over before your next meal opportunity. When correctly fueled post-workout, you can recover easier, rehydrate, and improve future performance. Here are some post-exercise meal ideas:
- One serving of protein, sweet potatoes, and roasted vegetables
- Avocado toast with an egg on top
- A banana and a protein shake
- A green salad with chopped veggies, grilled chicken, light dressing, and a side of 100% whole wheat bread
- Two eggs and oatmeal
Water is an essential component for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. It is often overlooked but can help you perform well. Not only does water help to maintain your temperature, but it helps sustain activity. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you should drink 2 to 3 cups of water before exercise, 1/2 to a cup every 15 to 20 minutes during, and 2 to 3 cups after your workout minimum depending on exercise intensity and body size.
If you’re working out longer than 2 hours, water might not be enough. For electrolyte balance, a sports drink will help sustain activity. In addition, adding branch chain amino acids to your water may help with muscle building and retention after training. These are the minimum recommended amounts, so make the best decision based on your goals.
Intra Workout Fuel
Not everyone needs to eat during exercise; the need depends on the duration. If you are training for less than 90 minutes, the main focus should be hydrating. Depending on if you are in the heat, you might want to consider a beverage providing extra electrolytes. For longer sessions over 90 minutes, adding a quick form of carbohydrate like an energy gel could assist endurance training.
If you need more help with putting together meals, please take a look at my ultimate fit foodie guide! It is the ultimate resource for setting up your health and wellness goals. You will be a pro at it in no time!