Fit for Life

Fuel up for fitness: Use food to get the most out a workout

A woman uses resistance bands while exercising. People should eat about an hour before working out for energy and then eat again some time after exercising to replenish nutrients in the body. Digital First Media File Photo

A woman uses resistance bands while exercising. People should eat about an hour before working out for energy and then eat again some time after exercising to replenish nutrients in the body. Digital First Media File Photo

By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

Food is to the body like batteries are to the remote control. Essential nutrients are a necessary part of fueling up for a workout and also for recovery after an exercise. It’s not only important what you eat but when you eat has an important role as well.

High protein snacks such as shakes and bars are on display. Protein is an important nutrient for both before and after workout meals. Digital First Media File Photo

High protein snacks such as shakes and bars are on display. Protein is an important nutrient for both before and after workout meals. Digital First Media File Photo

An article published in a 2013 edition of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition calls it “nutrition timing.” Nutrition timing is the strategy of planning when to eat nutrients such as proteins and carbohydrates around an exercise session to get the most out of the workout. The National Collegiate Athletic Association website states that “the right fuel at the right time” will impact how well an athlete performs and recovers.

“It’s one of the most crucial aspects of performance-based training because if you don’t have the right nutrients going into the training protocol then there’s really no point in pursuing the training,” said Tony Sabanos of Xcellerated Speed Training in Wyomissing.

Sabanos is a certified personal trainer and specializes in performance nutrition. He said it’s a must to have enough energy in order to perform at your best level and energy comes from food. Sabanos said the specific physical activity a person plans to do should determine what nutrients they eat and how much. He said before deciding what to eat, first determine what the next three hours of activity will include. Eating for a marathon will be different than eating for a quick gym workout, Sabanos said.

“If your activity is more vigorous and more time-consuming, you’ll want to eat a little bit more prior to going into that activity versus just going to the gym,” he said adding that he also recommends eating an hour before exercise so the body has time to digest the food.

Men stand up and use an indoor rowing machine with a paddle attachment. What you eat and when you eat it is important for top performance while exercising.

Men stand up and use an indoor rowing machine with a paddle attachment. What you eat and when you eat it is important for top performance while exercising.

Devin Gage, of Gage Strength Training in West Chester, also said that the specific physical activity will determine what the proper nutrition will be. He said someone planning to do an endurance exercise will want to eat lots of carbohydrates before the workout to keep up stamina. He said during such an activity, the body will use up the carbs first then start to burn body fat. Gage said people doing a high intensity activity will burn mostly carbs during the session and then will start to burn body fat afterward in the next day or two.

He said the body’s most readily available energy source is glucose which comes from the carbohydrates that you eat. Carbohydrates are found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products.

“When your body functions, it needs to pull energy from somewhere. If you don’t have the proper nutrients … in your body then it’s not going to have anything to pull from. It’s going to start breaking itself down in order to get energy,” Gage said.

He added that this is why it’s important to have the right nutrients inside your body before a workout otherwise the body will start to break down lean muscle tissue. Something that you never want to happen, he said.

A protein smoothie, fruit and yogurt are shown. Food that includes protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats are important for performance during an exercise session.

A protein smoothie, fruit and yogurt are shown. Food that includes protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats are important for performance during an exercise session.

A good pre-workout snack should include protein, carbs and fat. Gage said some good examples are a rice cake with peanut butter, a protein shake with a banana or a lean protein like chicken with half an avocado.

Aaron Christ, of Fresh Start Fitness in Pottstown, said there’s currently a big push to stay low-carb because the overconsumption of foods like pasta, chips and snacks is unhealthy. But he said before a workout is the time when people should eat carbohydrates.

“That is probably the one time of the day when you definitely want some carbohydrates because the carbs are going to help give you some of that energy you need right away,” he said.

He said protein is also a necessary nutrient for pre-workout foods.

“Our muscles are made of protein and as we break them down during our workout, we need to eat more protein to rebuild them back up,” Christ said.

While the meal should include a lot of protein and carbs, Christ said the actual food amount should be kept small. He said eating a big meal before a workout can lead to throwing it up later or cramps.

“It’s something that’s got protein to it. It’s got carbs to it. It’s not big. It’s more of a snack,” he said.

Just like eating prior to a workout is important, getting the right nutrients after exercising is also a must.

“When you’re a person that exercises, eating post workout is going to be probably the most important meal of the day,” Christ said.

He said exercise will deplete the body and uses a lot of the body’s energy resources so it must be replenished. Christ said the post-workout meal will be determined by a person’s fitness goal. Somebody that wants to increase strength and build muscle will have a bigger, more balanced meal wile someone that wants to lose weight should eat a meal with lots of protein, healthy fat and limited carbohydrates. Christ said a person focused on weight loss that eats a lot of carbs after a workout will just consume back what they lost during the exercise.

He said his recommendations for a post-workout meal are his opinion and that there are a lot of differing views on what’s best to consume after exercising.

Gage believes that after an intense workout, the body needs both proteins and carbs. He said post-workout is a good time for a protein bar. An after-workout meal should include about 30 to 60 grams of protein and 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates, Gage said.

“You have this window where you can have a lot of carbohydrates and it won’t store as body fat. It won’t store as that blood sugar,” he said.

Sabanos said the idea of eating within 30 minutes of a workout isn’t as important as making sure you stay on a regular eating pattern throughout the whole day. He said people should be eating every 2 ½ to 3 hours.

“It’s more important that you stick to the 2 ½ to 3 hour window to keep your metabolic function working the way it should,” Sabanos said.

He said the actual post-workout meal should have a balance of proteins and carbohydrates. Eating all proteins and no carbs will lead to the body using the proteins as carbohydrates anyway, he said.

Sabanos said one of the biggest nutrition mistakes that people make are eating for a short-term diet rather than a long-term lifestyle. He said people will change their eating habits for a quick fix but then don’t continue to eat that way after losing the weight. He recommends that before getting involved in a performance-based activity like running or sports, focus on getting the proper nutrition for the whole day.

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