Let’s talk about exercise
As the weather is warming up, a lot more people are taking their workouts outside. But, there are still those who don’t exercise simply because they do not know how to eat when exercising. The good news is, if you are just exercising for fun, you don’t need a specific nutrition program! You can eat a little more at your meals to get in the extra nutrition you need to sustain your workouts. If you are training for an event or are a serious athlete, then we should talk about nutrition, but even if you aren’t, its fun to know, so let’s dive in!
Some basic biochemistry background: there are 4 macronutrients that give us energy, these include fats, protein, carbohydrates, and alcohol (this one will likely affect your performance, so best to not use it as an energy source). Our body mainly uses carbohydrates for energy; the brain exclusively uses it and we store some in our muscles to provide energy during activity and in the liver as fuel, incase carbs aren’t available when our brain wants them. We use protein to rebuild tissues and, especially when training, don’t want to use protein as energy because it won’t be used to repair any muscle damage (which occurs during exercise and is needed in order to “bulk up”). Fats are used to rebuild cells, make hormones, absorb certain nutrients, and almost anything else that happens in your body. WE NEED FAT TO LIVE! It shocks me how many people don’t know this and are still scared of fat. The 80’s were almost 40 years ago, so let’s get over our low-fat craze.
We need energy in order to use energy, we need some to sustain our performance when exercising, and also so we don’t get hungry halfway through. The farther away from your workout, the more foods you can eat. So think 4 hours before, eat a full meal; 2 hours before, eat a light snack: maybe a bagel or some toast with peanut butter; 1 hour before, something small, easy to digest, and mostly carbohydrates: a banana or a slice of toast. Anything with a significant amount of protein or fat at this time, like a bar, will likely be too heavy and won’t have fully digested by the time you start your workout. This can often lead to feeling sluggish and like you aren’t doing your best.
I’d like to take a second and say that everyone’s body is different and maybe a bar an hour before your work out is perfect for you! Great! Do what is best for you and what you know your body can handle. Also, if you are training for an event, make sure to experiment with pre- and post fuel BEFORE the event. If you try something new the day of, you may realize it doesn’t sit well with you. So test out different snacks!
After your workout, there is one major macronutrient that you need to replenish. Want to guess what it is? It’s carbohydrate; shocking, right? Most people think it’s protein. But like I mentioned earlier, we store carbohydrates in our muscle. As we exercise, we use those carbs to provide energy for our muscles to keep going. They also take up a lot of room because those carbs get stored with water, so by drinking enough water and eating carbohydrates, your muscles will grow! We need some protein afterwards to repair any little tears or damage we caused to our muscle. This will help it remain strong. An ideal ratio of carbs to protein after exercise is 4:1. Don’t want to do the math? Chocolate milk has been shown to be one of the best recovery drinks! If you’re like me and you don’t like chocolate, use some vanilla or strawberry flavoring. I mix in half a packet of white hot chocolate with 1 cup of milk because I like that taste best.
I also want to make a quick note about water. If you weigh yourself before and after exercise (I am not promoting you do this as I think using weight is a poor measure of health, but if you already weigh yourself both before and after, then this may be helpful) any weight loss you notice is due to water loss. You did not lose weight, you lost water in your sweat and in your breath and it needs to be replaced. For every pound lost after exercise, replace it with 16 oz of water.
There is a lot of marketing around sport foods, which aren’t needed by those of us who aren’t serious athletes. Gatorade or other sports drinks are not needed unless exercising very hard on a hot day. You will get enough electrolytes from the food you eat and frankly, the amount of sodium (salt) you’d need to drink in order for Gatorade to be a good source of electrolytes would make it unpalatable. It would be like drinking seawater. Sports bars are also often unhelpful because, unless it’s just a snack throughout your day, you need a lot more carbohydrates and less protein than they typically offer, both pre and post exercise.
No matter what or how you eat, we know exercise is good for us. Most of us don’t need a fancy nutrition program to along with our workouts, it’s more important to get out there and have fun! Don’t commit to an exercise program because it’s “the thing” to do, if you actually hate doing it. There’s no use forcing yourself to run if you don’t like running because eventually you will give it up since it feels like a chore. Find something you love, whether it’s going on walks with your dog or a friend, dancing, taking a kickboxing class, swimming, or doing youtube videos at home! Get out there and have fun!