When it comes to eating and exercise, entire supermarket aisles are devoted to energy bars, prepackaged gels and high-tech drinks promising enhanced performance. Recreational athletes should refuel after intense exercise, but if you’re trying to lose weight, the practice only adds extra calories. And a review of studies on nutrition and sports performance has concluded that instead of energy bars and Gatorade, a healthy diet with plenty of fluids will do just fine.
Sports nutrition experts weigh in
Most people don’t need to keep eating during a race or a workout to sustain energy and stamina, according to a group of experts who reviewed studies on sports nutrition for the American College of Sports Medicine. If you’ve entered a 10-kilometer run, you won’t need to drink Gatorade or pop Clif Shots during the event. The experts concluded that even serious athletes don’t need to be eating during exercise or competition.
There are no set rules on what you should eat and drink before, during and after exercise. But if your body runs out of glucose for fuel, it will start breaking down muscle instead of burning fat. If you need to eat during exercise it depends on what you ate before you exercise and how intense your effort is going to be. If your workout or event lasts more than two hours, you need to replace carbohydrates to keep muscles fueled.
A healthy diet matters most
To get the most out of exercise, your regular diet matter most. It should include quality carbohydrates, lean protein, heart-healthy fats and plenty of fluids. For quick energy, muscles need carbohydrates from breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits and vegetables. To build and maintain muscles, you need protein to deliver nutrients and oxygen to keep blood cells healthy.
When to eat and how much
If you like to exercise in the morning, get up early and have breakfast one or two hours before you work out. Your body has used up last night’s dinner and your blood sugar is low. Emphasize carbohydrates for muscle fuel with foods like whole grain cereals or bread, low-fat milk, fruit juice or bananas. After exercise, have a little protein to help maintain and build your muscles. A handful of nuts is a good option.
To maximize your benefits from exercise, how much you eat is important. Eating too much before you exercise will make you sluggish or leave you with a stomach ache or worse. Eating too little won’t deliver the energy you need to feel strong during your workout. According to the Mayo Clinic, large meals should be eaten at least three to four hours before a workout. Smaller meals can be eaten two to three hours before exercising. If you’re working out after work, a small snack will benefit you most an hour before you exercise.
Listen to what your body tells you
If you’re committed to exercise regularly, staying hydrated will ensure you get the most out of your workouts. Sports drinks provide energy and electrolytes, but water is the best way to replace lost fluids.
Everyone is different when it comes to eating and exercise. It all depends on what helps you feel strong and perform well. Try keeping a food journal to track how your body reacts to your diet. Use the data to adjust your meals for optimal performance—but make any changes to your diet gradually so your body can adapt.