The nutrition needs of an avid exerciser are different depending on the goals. If you’re training for a marathon and trying to truly enhance and improve your performance, there’s one set of recommendations. If you’re trying to build muscle in a more body-builder sort of way, there’s another approach. And if you’re trying to lose weight and using exercise as a part of just an overall healthy lifestyle, there’s yet another way to incorporate nutrition. For the purposes of this post, we’ll be looking at the latter situation.
Most clients who come into CoreLife are looking to add or continue an exercise component in order to improve their overall health and to help support their weight loss journey. In this case, “re-fueling” isn’t as necessary as in a performance-minded exercise regiment. If you’re working out first thing in the morning and it’s for less than 60 minutes, there’s no need to eat anything, unless it makes you feel a bit better before you get moving. As long as you make sure to eat breakfast within 2 hours of waking, you should be just fine. So, if you’re waking at 6, working out by 6:15, and eating breakfast before 8, you’re good to go. Make sure you follow the basic recommendations of incorporating healthy fats, protein, and carbs to make it a complete meal. If you feel better having a little something in your stomach before you work out first thing, try a small piece of fruit or a graham cracker or two. You don’t want much fat, protein, or fiber right before exercising, as that takes longer to digest and can cause you to have an upset/uncomfortable stomach during your workout! In either case, I recommend starting with a little water to help get your body re-hydrated after a good night’s rest.
If you prefer to do your working out later in the day, make sure you don’t go into it completely empty. If your last meal or snack was over 3 hours ago, have a little something to make sure you’re not feeling light-headed during your workout. Again, a small piece of fruit, like half a banana or a few grapes is perfect. And if it’s going to be a while until your next meal following your workout (more than an hour), plan to have a little snack to help your body recover and refuel. Post-workout snacks should contain some carbs and some protein to help replenish your body and jump start the muscle repair process (my powered-up chocolate milk recipe on the CoreLife blog is a great choice!).
In the event that your workout are regularly lasting an hour or more (which I don’t really recommend unless you’re training specifically for something), I recommend a little carbohydrate and hydration boost during your hour+ workout. It’s best if you incorporate this “boost” throughout the workout instead of all at once, as a big dose of carbs or fluids all at once can cause stomach distress and interrupt your workout. So, if you know that workout is going to be an hour or more, try to sip on something throughout so that you’re getting about 2 cups of fluid by the end of an hour or so. While sports drinks are an ok choice, I recommend watered down grape juice (no sugar added) or watermelon juice (again, no sugar added). Try pouring about 10-12 oz of juice and then an additional 6-4 oz of water (for a total of 16 oz) into your water bottle. This provides the right amount of hydration and a good balance of natural carbs without giving you a sugar spike and the consequent crash. When you workout for over an hour, your body’s blood sugar reserves (the preferred and most efficient energy source for your body) are drastically depleted. If you’ve ever heard the expression or experienced that moment of “hitting the wall” while exercising, you’ve reached the point where your best energy stores are completed and your body is slowing down because it’s being forced to use less efficient energy sources. Again, I don’t recommend intense training sessions last 60 minutes or more, as it’s hard on the body and generally not as effective as a shorter, more intense workout. If you’re doing 60+ minutes of low or moderate activity (walking, lifting with large rest breaks between sets, etc) refueling during the workout is not really necessary; just be sure to hydrate and refuel following the workout. If you’re finishing up your workout and going to be eating a meal soon after (within an hour), don’t worry about a snack, but try to sip on some lemon water with a bit of sea salt to re-hydrate and provide your body with some electrolytes. Then make your meal a good balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats (just like you should ALWAYS be doing!).
Training for something and need a more specific, individualized nutrition approach? Let us know when you come in to help us tweak your nutrition needs!
Aubrey Phelps MS RDN