Before and After Your Workout—What to Eat or Drink

Article by Dr. Paul Kennedy
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Periodically there is a reanalysis of what has become known as “sports nutrition” (which in most cases is essentially “exercise nutrition”) with respect to ratios or percentages of carbohydrate and protein consumption. As is usually the case in “exercise prescription” there are literally dozens of mitigating factors that may need to be considered in order to come up with the optimal amounts of these essential “nutrients” that will, hopefully, allow us to perform AND recover from exercise and/or competition more quickly and safely. Some of these factors include workout intensity, body type, gender, ambient temperature (temperature plus humidity), length of exercise bout or competition, current fitness level, type of exercise (endurance versus strength or power), the “timing” of the nutrient intake and even fitness goals (for example, weight management versus training for a specific activity or sport competition). It’s no wonder then that many people feel confused by all the commercial hype surrounding “supplements” or products associated with improving performance or even body composition. Let’s take a look at some fundamental ideas that will help to improve YOUR performance and maybe even save you a little cash.

The three essential nutrients that provide energy are fats, protein and carbohydrates with carbohydrates and proteins providing about 4.5 calories per gram. Fat contains 9 calories per gram and is not considered as essential for pre and post-exercise nutrition as are the other two and, therefore, should be kept, generally, at a minimum as a pre and/or post-exercise nutrient. But even with this in mind, the first hurdle to clear (no pun intended) is hydration or sufficient fluid intake. And the answer to this is simple—water, another essential nutrient! About 16 to 24 ounces of water within an hour or so of an exercise bout or competition should help to “hydrate” the cells to prepare for exercise. After that, think in terms of replacing lost water (mostly as a result of sweating) by weighing one’s self periodically and replacing the “lost water” by weight (in other words, 16 ounces per pound lost) when able. On a related note, “sport drinks”, although usually containing electrolytes (mostly trace minerals) that the body uses for energy, are rarely needed for activities that are only moderately intense, last less than 45 minutes to an hour and/or take place in temperature controlled spaces (like a

fitness center). Lots of fresh water will do the trick. It makes little sense to spend time on a treadmill or similar device “burning” two or three hundred calories while simultaneously slamming down a “sport drink” that contains about, well, two or three hundred calories—especially if the treadmill or running/walking routine is primarily used for weight loss! Duh!

For pre-workout nutrition, start your “fueling” at least an hour or two before your routine if possible. Think mostly carbohydrate sources, little fat (since it digests very slowly) and some protein. The carbohydrate to protein ratio should be about 75% to 25%. This carbohydrate infusion will help to “top off” your glucose levels—the true fuel of exercise—and allow you to train or workout more consistently. For longer workouts (longer than 45 minutes to an hour), you may need to replenish with carbs from similar sources as your pre-workout “meal”. About 200 to 400 calories of “carbs” (or approx. 40 to 80 grams) and about 75 to 200 calories of protein (or approx. 20 to 40 grams) should do the trick and all amounts are dependent, of course, on body size and MAY require a bit more but seldom less. For example, some soup (especially noodle soup) is an easy way to “carb up” particularly since it has a high water content. A little cereal with milk or white meat chicken with fruit juice are a couple of other examples—but you get the idea.

After your workout, weigh yourself and replace any lost fluids as soon as possible as described above! It is also a good idea to have your post-workout “meal” within 30 minutes to an hour after your workout (30 minutes is better). Your ratio of carbohydrates to protein will be essentially the same but for strength training workouts your level of protein intake (depending upon the intensity of the workout) may need to be increase from 25% to about 50% to 60% of the total calories consumed. The inclusion and additional rapid infusion of the carbohydrate component following your workout will help your body to avoid using your muscles to produce glucose and, in this way, will assist in muscle recovery. It may be helpful to use a pre-packaged carbohydrate/protein product which will allow “assimilation” (the ability of your body to actually digest and USE the nutritional input) to happen more quickly. In other words, a post-workout “mini-meal” should be considered as part of a recovery phase—especially where strength training and higher intensity (faster and/or longer) cardiovascular training is concerned. A post-workout energy bar or two may do the trick but check the label for carbohydrate versus protein component. A higher “carb” component may be better for pre-workout “meal” and a higher protein component may be better for a post-workout replenishment snack. Again, your choice will depend on many of the factors suggested in paragraph one. If you workout at work, prepare your goodies before you go to work, place them in small containers and keep them refrigerated. If you work out before work, during work breaks or after work and your workplace doesn’t have a refrigerator—get another job! Just kidding, use a small cooler and bring it to work.

So don’t make the nutrition aspect of your program any harder than it is. The basic idea is to prepare the body (the pre-workout meal) for a workload (your workout) that is generally much higher than the normal level of exertion and help to promote recovery after the workout (the post-workout meal) using, in both cases, fluids (usually water), carbohydrates and protein. So keep it simple and make it fun.

I’m Dr. Paul Kennedy and that’s the “Be Fit, Stay Fit” Topic of the Month for August 2010. Good luck with YOUR program. I KNOW you can do it.

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