If we want to stay healthy we know that a combination of a balanced diet and regular exercise are the way to go. But what's often overlooked is how fitness and food can work together to help you achieve your health goals.
If you're powering up for a workout, how you fuel your body is one of the most important aspects to consider before you dig out the dumbbells.
Having too little to eat before a high-intensity session or forgoing food whatsoever and you risk feeling faint, while indulging in a big meal before a yoga session could leave you feeling sluggish.
Navigating the relationship between food and exercise may seem tricky, but we've enlisted the help of Kerry Beeson, Nutritional Therapist (BSc) at Prep Kitchen to help give a greater clarity on what and when we should be eating before and after a workout to achieve optimum results.
How soon before and after a workout should you eat?
The focus of eating pre-workout is to provide you with heightened energy, prevent fatigue, and support muscle maintenance and growth.
"As a general rule, you should aim to eat between one and three hours before your session," advises Beeson. "If you are eating an hour before your workout, keep the quantity small. If you are eating two to three hours ahead of time, you can increase the volume of food.
"If you exercise intensely too soon after eating, blood flow shifts from your digestive system to your muscles which can result in indigestion - not a great feeling when you’re aiming for that PB," she adds.
When to eat before exercising can also be dependent on your overall fitness goals.
"If you’re trying to lose weight rather than enhance performance you might want to fast before working out," Beeson suggests. "Exercising on an empty stomach will encourage your body to break down fat for energy."
However, it isn’t just about when you eat, but also what you eat before exercising.
What foods should I avoid eating before a workout?
Beeson says it is important to feed your body the right food types to help reach your fitness goals.
"When it comes to pre-workout meals, they should be high in protein and complex carbohydrates as they will work together to provide energy and support your hard-working muscles," she explains.
Healthy meal prep options can be a great choice for a quick and convenient protein fix rather than being tempted to load up on snacks before a workout.
"The type of carbs also matter - refined carbohydrates are great for a quick burst of energy but this will crash shortly after," Beeson says.
"For a more long-lasting energy release, aim for complex carbohydrates that won’t cause blood sugar spikes, such as sweet potato and brown rice."
As for what you should avoid in the hours leading up to your exercise, Beeson recommends steering clear of any foods high in fats - such as nuts, cheese and fatty meat - as well as high fibre foods.
"Foods which are too high in fibre can cause gas and bloating which isn’t ideal before a high intensity workout," Beeson says.
"Interestingly, we don’t actually digest fibre, it’s indigestible which can lead to bloating and stomach discomfort if you exercise too soon afterwards."
What are the best foods to eat after a workout?
Once you’ve finished your fitness routine, there are certain foods which can help speed up the recovery process.
"After a particularly intense workout, it can be tempting to reach for quick snacks or refined sugars, especially if you have burnt a high amount of calories in a short period of time," Beeson says. "However, in the post-workout stage your body really needs nutritious food to replenish and refuel."
Some great options for the recovery stage are eggs, spinach, lean meats or whole grain pasta.
"Again, this also depends on the type of exercise you have completed. After strength training, I recommend aiming for a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein," Beeson continues. "Whereas, if you have just finished an endurance-based session, this ratio should be around 3:1."
She also suggests trying to avoid high fat foods for the first couple of hours following a workout as this can put unnecessary strain on your digestion while your body recovers.
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