Curious about what to eat before and after you workout? For the Feb/March issue of Healthy Cooking, we spoke to Nancy Clark, registered dietitian, sports nutritionist and author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, who gave us some terrific advice. Here's the complete interview:
HC: Nancy, thanks for talking to us! Let's start at the top—how do you feel about eating before a workout?
Nancy: "What you eat before your workout will help you while you exercise and then be there to help your body recover afterward. You should choose a snack where carbs are the foundation and protein, the accompaniment. The sugar from carbs is more quickly available to your muscles, while protein takes longer to digest. The carbs will provide your body with fuel during your workout, while the protein will protect and repair the muscles afterward."
HC: Some don't eat before they work out because it's too hard on the stomach. Do you have to "train" your stomach to accept a pre-exercise snack?
Nancy: "For some people, eating before a workout can be an issue, causing an upset stomach or the need to make a 'pit stop' during a workout. If you haven't been eating before a workout, start slowly. Just eat a few crackers or pretzels or half a banana, and then see how it goes and adjust things from there. I typically recommend eating 200 to 300 calories within the hour before you exercise."
HC: What are a few examples of good snacks to eat before working out?
Nancy: "Pretzels, crackers, yogurt, cereal with milk, a banana with a small amount of peanut butter, a fruit smoothie, fruit and vegetables. I know one person who snacks on a sweet potato before working out!"
HC: For all those early morning exercisers who get out of bed and go running before breakfast, is it harder to get through a workout on an empty stomach? Would they notice an improvement in their workout if they ate a snack beforehand?
Nancy: "Morning exercisers should eat part of their breakfast early. For example, they could have a banana beforehand and then have cereal afterward. Even a piece of toast, a chunk of bagel, swig of OJ—100 to 300 calories of something that settles well and gets the blood sugar on the upswing would be good."
HC: How about after the workout? We've heard it's great to eat right after a workout because your body's revved up and ready to burn calories. What do you think?
Nancy: "When you stop exercising, you stop burning calories at that higher rate. Eating after you work out is more about repairing your muscles then timing a meal to burn calories.
After a workout, your body is more receptive to the amino acids (which come from broken down protein) it needs to repair muscles. The casual exerciser should have a small snack after a workout because it nips their appetite in the bud before it turns into a cookie monster!"
HC: What are a few examples of good, after-workout snacks for the casual exerciser?
Nancy: "Cereal and milk, yogurt, chocolate milk, a smoothie, fruit-basically the same things that are good to eat pre-exercise. Or, if you're working out shortly before breakfast, lunch or dinner, just have a meal. But recreational exercisers don't have to be obsessive about recovery. They have not depleted their muscles, so they do not have much to refuel."
HC: We've heard chocolate milk is a good post-workout snack. Is it true?
Nancy: "Yes, chocolate milk has a good foundation of carbs combined with high-quality protein. But, you need to watch your calorie balance. If you only burned 200 calories, you don't want to drink 300 calories worth of chocolate milk. It's very important to know how many calories you are actually burning during a workout so you don't eat more than you just worked off!"
HC: How necessary are those energy bars and sports drinks to the average exerciser (i.e., someone who spends 45 minutes at the gym, 3 times a week)?
Nancy: "Not necessary. Energy bars are 200 calories of prewrapped convenience. Just have a snack instead. You can have 200 calories of yogurt with fruit or a banana with a bit of peanut butter. And sports drinks aren't really necessary unless you're working out for longer than an hour or an hour and a half."
HC: How much water should a person drink while working out?
Nancy: "It's important to drink water prior to a workout to replace sweat loss. Being dehydrated slows you down, and you need to drink before you feel thirsty to stay hydrated."
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