You’ll feel better if you eat something healthy before you get to the gym. Too many people don’t eat enough because they think it’s the best way to lose weight. It’s not.
MASTERING HOW and when to eat based on how much or when you work out can feel like a never-ending problem: How long before my workout do I eat? What should I eat? How often should I eat?
Any active person should remember that regardless of your health, when you work out, you are an athlete, says Aimee Gallo, a sports nutritionist and trainer.
“You have to fuel your body as an athlete, even if you don’t feel like an athlete or look like one,” she says.
Momentum Power Smoothie
1½ cups frozen mango (or other fruit)
½ cup orange juice
½ cup coconut water
2 BIG handfuls spinach or kale leaves
1 scoop (20 grams) unsweetened protein powder (double-check: no artificial sweeteners)
Optional (for added power): nut butter, banana, coconut, flax/hemp/chia seeds, almonds, yogurt, milk or milk alternative
Blend and enjoy.
Gallo says she often sees people undernourish themselves because they want to lose weight. It’s the opposite of what you should do, she says. The sooner you think of food as fuel and eat at the times your body needs it, the quicker you are to lose weight.
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Emily Edison, a local sports nutritionist and trainer, says regardless of weight-loss goals or intentions to gain muscle mass, she tells clients to think about fueling their bodies so they feel good during the workout, rather than feeling miserable for 30 minutes on the elliptical and 30 minutes of weights.
She talks to clients about eating before and after a workout to help them feel better during. Think about bookending your workouts with fuel and hydration. If you’re working out for 90 minutes or more, you need to consider fueling yourself during the workout, Edison says.
Before you work out
You should feed your body before you work out and hydrate by drinking water, Edison says. If you don’t, your muscle tissue is more likely to break down, particularly if you work out on an empty stomach. Then, you leave the gym hungry and are more inclined to make poor food choices, like grabbing fast food or raiding your pantry when you get home.
The average person can follow these basic guidelines:
• Eat a normal to medium-size meal two to three hours before you work out.
• Eat a snack at least an hour before you work out, Edison says. It’s good to add in fat, so hummus, olives, nuts or avocado are all good choices, as long as you have enough time to digest.
• If you exercise in the morning, eat something 30 minutes before that is easy to digest, like a small smoothie with a good balance of carbs, proteins and fats; a piece of toast with nut butter; or oatmeal.
During your workout
If you work out for 90 minutes or more, you need an average of 30 grams of carbs every 30 minutes to sustain the amount of glycogen you’re using. Otherwise, you could run out of carbohydrates and bonk. Edison often sees people falling short here. “It’s pretty amazing how people are trying to go out and run marathons on nothing.”
• Consider a sports drink, homemade sports fuel or a carbohydrate-driven bar rather than a nut-heavy one. Depending on the sport, you might be able to eat a homemade energy bar or a medium piece of fruit.
After your workout
Eating something within 30 minutes after your workout is helpful, particularly if you worked hard. Some experts recommend everyone eat within that window, while others say with a lighter workout, you are fine as long as you eat within an hour or two. Regardless, all say to eat a mix of protein and carbs.
• Ideas for your post-workout food: a turkey sandwich, a breakfast burrito, a yogurt parfait or something as simple as an apple and a handful of nuts, or a Lara bar.
Our bodies are capable of incredible things, and we need antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, and more, Gallo says. In general, eat real foods that are not packaged or processed.
“Give your body the kind of fuel you would give a Lamborghini,” she says.