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April 1, 2011

What to Eat and Drink Before, During, & After Exercise

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

It's finally Spring, and chances are, you're working out on a regular basis in anticipation of bathing suit season, so it's important to fuel up with a healthy diet that includes plenty of fluid. Here's what you need to know about the best way to "fill your tank" for physical activity.

Before Exercise

Muscles are energized by foods rich in carbohydrate, such as bread, cereal, pasta, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.  Protein builds and maintains muscle tissue and supplies the raw materials to make blood cells that deliver oxygen to hard-working muscles during exercise.  Excellent protein sources include lean meats, seafood, tofu, beans, Hood Cottage CheeseHood Milk , and Simply Smart Milks .

Fueling up for physical activity is a balancing act. Eating too much before you exercise may work against you because it can make you sluggish, and may lead to stomach discomfort. However, working out on an empty stomach may leave you without the energy to get through your exercise routine.

Small meals or snacks provide the energy you need to make it through your workout.  Here are some suggestions:

• Small bowl of cereal and ½ cup Hood Milk

• ¼ cup Hood Cottage Cheese and whole grain crackers

• 4 to 8 ounces of 100% orange juice

• Slice of whole grain toast and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter

Early morning exercisers who don't have the time to eat before their walk, run or boot camp class, should have a meal or snack that starts within 30 minutes of finishing their workout. 

As for fluid, it's best to sip 16 ounces of water two hours before a long walk, run, or a boot camp class.  This may not be possible if you exercise very early in the morning, but try to drink at least 8 ounces of fluid before your work out. Your morning juice, java, or tea counts toward meeting fluid needs.

It's a good idea to make sure that you are well hydrated at all times by including three glasses of milk and water-filled foods, such as five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, so that moderate or vigorous exercise won't leave you dehdyrated. You can tell if you're getting enough fluid when your urine is the color of straw, or lighter. 

During Exercise

Unless you're biking 100 miles, hiking for hours, or training for a triathalon, you probably won't need to eat during your work out.  But you will need to drink.

Water is the fluid of choice for recreational exercisers who work out for an hour or less. Sip four to eight ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes when exercising. You may need additional water when it's warm outside or in the gym. If you exercise vigorously for more than 60 minutes in hot, humid conditions, sports drinks may be a better choice than water. These beverages provide fluid, carbohydrate and sodium. Sports drinks are caloric, so use them with caution. You may end up drinking the calories burned during your work out, and more. 

After Exercise

Eating after exercise is about replacing lost fluid, replenishing energy stores, and providing the protein it takes to repair and build muscle. Good nutrition after one work out helps to fuel future physical activity. The best after-exercise meal or snack includes at least 10 grams of protein, and carbohydrate. Eating adequate carbohydrate restocks muscles with the glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate, or energy) that they need. 

For maximum recovery and muscle-making potential, eat within 30 minutes after your workout ends. Be mindful of calories, and stay within your daily calorie budget. Exercise is not license to overeat.  With all the focus on sports bars and beverages, you may be overlooking a food found in your kitchen that provides the fluid, carbohydrate, and protein you need after working out: fat-free chocolate milk.

Research shows that fat-free chocolate, such as Simply Smart Chocolate Fat Free Milk , beats out sports drinks at helping to rebuild and refuel muscles after exercise. It appears that the combination of carbohydrates and protein is ideal post-exercise nutrition.

Here are some other examples of balanced post-exercise munchies:
Fruit Smoothie
• Hard-cooked egg, 1/2 whole wheat English muffin or whole wheat Graham crackers
• Berry parfait: In a tall glass, layer low-fat cottage cheese with whole grain cereal and 1 cup fresh or frozen berries
• Oatmeal: Microwave plain, 1-minute, or instant oatmeal with milk. Top with 1/4 cup dried fruit and 2 tablespoons chopped almonds.

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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