When to eat and what to eat are constant questions that affect your fitness and health goals as well as your weight loss desires. I was recently asked a question by email that asked, “What should I eat/drink before, during, and after my workout? I am 40 years old and my goal is to look better and be healthier. I need to lose weight in other words.”
The answer will vary depending on your goal, but understanding After, Before, During (ABD’s) of Workout Nutrition will better help all groups (performance athletes, weight losers, general health clients) reach their personal goals. I saw the” ABD’s of Nutrition” at a recent Mid-Atlantic NSCA Regional conference given by Paul Moore, MS, RD, CSCS of Fitness4 Pros and thought it was a brilliant way to discuss nutrition throughout the training cycle.
This understanding of what foods / drinks work best for fat loss and health gains requires a constant search for the individual. Here are some suggestions that will help you figure out WHAT to eat, WHEN to eat, as it all depends on your individual likes / dislikes and goals.
For the Health / Fitness /Body Fat Reduction Goal: If you are trying to drop some unwanted pounds and get healthy, proper nutrition and a well arranged workout plan are vital to you achieving that goal. You have to experiment with the types of exercise that will create a good caloric burn as well as find sources of lower calorie foods that work best for your energy level. Keep track of how you feel during workouts whether they are higher intensity resistance training or lower intensity cardio as these will typically measure if you are eating enough quality foods. If you have significant weight (40+ lbs) to lose, Try some non impact cardio options like biking, elliptical gliders, swimming, aqua-jogging, rowing etc. See some workout ideas at related article: Non Impact Options
THE FAT BURNING WORKOUT: If your goal is to burn fat, your workout should get you into a fat burning zone by the time you are finished exercising for the day. The arrangement of your workout should be calisthenics or weights first followed by steady, aerobic cardio of your choice. Basically, go hard the first half of your workout and burn your blood sugar (anaerobic activity burns glycogen) as your prime energy source first. This can take about 15-20 minutes of intense workout depending on the amount of food you have eaten before the workout of the day. Once you are feeling burned out from that section of anaerobic activity, it is now time to go aerobic and get into fat burning mode. BEST FAT BURNING TIME – immediately after waking before having any food.
AFTER WORKOUT: Here is where you can stay in fat burning mode a little longer. If you delay eating carbs immediately after your workout for another 30-60 minutes you will be fine and actually still be using fat as your primary energy source. Throughout the next several hours of the day your metabolism will be higher thus burning more calories than having NOT exercised that morning. After a while, you will need to eat good carbohydrates (fruits / veges) and a protein serving to recover from the workout. Limit the carbs in a day and try to eliminate sugar. Find what carbohydrates and proteins work best for you and your energy requirements for the day (work, home, kids, etc). Supplements tend to come into play during the post workout nutrition game. I am not personally into supplementing daily other than some omega 3 and 6 capsules and some multi-vitamins rich in all the B vitamins especially. For a quick fix and in replacement of food in a pinch, I will take some whey protein powder in milk. You still need to prepare for the next workout session by eating something even though you are trying to lose weight.
Related Article: Which First – Resistance Training or Cardio Exercise?
BEFORE WORKOUT: If you are working out to lose weight and get healthier, depending on your workout intensity, you may not need to have a pre-workout meal. If your goal is to get into fat burning mode, the fewer carbs you eat prior to workout will decrease the amount of time and effort required to get into that fat burning / low glycogen mode). If you like to work out immediately after you wake up, you are at your lowest in blood sugar for the day. Now is the time to take a short burst of intense exercise then follow it with what I call conversational pace cardio. If you can talk and be a little winded you are in prime fat burning zone.
DURING WORKOUT: Unless you are working out for extended periods of time to get used to 8-10 hours of training at Special Operations School, food intake during normal hour long (or shorter) workouts is not needed. Just drink water to stay hydrated and if you are sweating profusely in the humid, summer heat. If sweating profusely, you should follow with a serving or two of electrolytes to replace what you lose while sweating.
Great ideas for protein, carbs, and fats are:
Carbohydrate Options: Multi grain breads and pastas, brown rice, cereals, good carbs like vegetables (romaine lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, carrots), and fruits, (tomatoes, strawberries, apples, berries, oranges, grapes, and bananas ) make great carbohydrates for energy. Stay away from white breads, pastas, rice and any flour baked products. Sugar is your killer – eliminate sugar drinks / replace with water and unsweetened drinks if you can or seriously limit them.
Protein Options: Meats, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, almonds, beans, milk, milk shakes with additional whey protein powder (optional), peanut butter. I personally eat boiled eggs and salads in between meals during snack time, or have a few servings with a main course of meat or fish for a good balance of plant and animal protein.
Fat Options: Fish, nuts, olive oils, omega 3 fortified products (milk, margarine, peanut butter). Typically, I get most of these fats from nuts and fish, but I also supplement the omega 3 fatty acids most important to longevity / healthy recovery.
The ABD’s of HYDRATION: Any group who works out needs to hydrate during workouts to stay cool and avoid over-heating / dehydration especially during excessively sweaty workouts, but you also need to add electrolytes (sodium potassium, magnesium, calcium as well.) Foods rich in many of these elements are essential to your recovery from significant water / electrolyte loss. Personally, if I can wring out my shirt after a workout, I will add more of these “salts” into my post exercise diet. Sure you can add sports drinks but stay away from the extra sugar / electrolytes if you are not sweating. Sports drinks with sodium, potassium, carbohydrates (sugar) are a safe bet for hydration during hard sweaty exercise. BUT if you are not sweating profusely, there is little need for these sports drinks during exercise unless you are in a desert environment where you do not sweat as it evaporates immediately. Bananas and water are also sufficient in most cases. Here are some ideas for hydration:
After Workouts - One of my favorite post exercise snacks is a can of chicken noodle soup (Campbells Noodle O’s) as it is loaded with potassium, sodium, carbs, protein as well. In fact it has about 3-4 times the potassium of a banana and about 5-6 times the potassium of Gatorade. If you are not sweating much nor in arid environment, water will be enough to hydrate you.
Before workouts, do not drink too much if you are doing significant running as the bouncing will potentially cause cramping.
During workouts, sip water or carbohydrate / electrolyte mix every 10-15 minutes to maintain high intensity performance training.
A ballpark equation for daily consumption of liquids for highly active person is:
50-75% body weight in lbs = oz per day of H2O
Finding the right mix of carbohydrates, protein, fats, electrolytes and water all depend on your age, sex, weight, activity level, and goals. Every day you have a killer good workout / test scores and feel great afterwards, make a note of everything you did that day. Very often it is the formula that works best for you and your fitness performance goals.
Good luck with your nutrition / performance fitness program and I hope you see improvement soon.