Earlier this month, I covered pre-workout nutrition. While researching for my post-workout article, I noticed something. A complete guide to healthy food and exercise is necessary. It’ll provide the foundation for those articles.
So, here I am. Today, you’ll learn what’s the right mindset for nutrition when you’re working out. Fitness isn’t about adding a workout routine to your life. You must adapt to it.
How do you do that? With proper nutrition.
That matters because fitness has evolved. It’s not merely an athletic career choice. Exercise and nutrition have become general healthcare. Thus, the average Joe keeps getting pushed to it.
Now, that’s fantastic. Everyone can benefit from more physical activity. Yet, it can result in a few problems. In many cases, people don’t adapt their eating habits to exercise. You can feel fatigued and even sick throughout the day.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- How nutrition affects exercise (and vice-versa).
- How to adapt your eating habits to a fitness routine.
- The best after exercise meals.
- The best before exercise meals.
- A few products I recommend to get you started.
Understanding the relationship between healthy food and exercise
Firstly, let’s cover the basics. Why is nutrition important for exercise? What’s the link between healthy food and exercise? What can nutrients do for your body?
Proper nutrition is critical for exercise performance and recovery. This study dives into the functional relationship between food and exercise. Balanced diets typically provide all the nutrients you need.
Yes, athletes need heftier meals since they burn more calories. But, that won’t be your case—unless you want to become a professional. Thus, let’s simplify that study a bit below.
We must stay hydrated
Our body is mostly water. Thus, hydration is vital for regular functioning. During exercise, that becomes more important. That’s because our body temperature rises with intense workouts.
Naturally, we sweat as our body tries to cool down. That fluid loss hinders athletic performance. Yet, we need to replenish electrolytes. That means isotonic and hypotonic fluid is preferable. Water alone isn’t ideal for extended routines.
Energy translates into endurance
Energy comes from lipids and carbohydrates. As such, we must ensure proper nutrition with these substrates. Glycogen is crucial, but its metabolism is quite complex. Moreover, glycogen-centered diets are better for athletic competition.
Besides, consuming some protein with carbs can be efficient. It’ll aid recovery after exercise. Consuming extra carbs before working out can improve endurance.
Muscle strength depends on nutrition
Most people understand that muscle strength comes from the overall mass. That means protein should be a priority. Yet, the same goes for improving your protein metabolism. That includes synthesis and degradation.
Luckily, resistance training improves protein metabolism. It promotes synthesis and overall muscle growth. Thus, resistance training and protein go together. For extra protein, supplements and dairy products can help.
Food helps our body heal
Injury is common when working out. Not only that, but it’s also vital for proper development. With resistance training, your muscles develop micro-tears. Your muscles grow as these tears heal.
However, injury can be an issue for beginners. Antioxidants could prevent oxidative damage. Thus, try adding them to your diet (and during exercise). Carbs also help you replenish your glycogen storage. Thus, they’re crucial for recovery.
Exercise hinders immunity
Curiously, physical activity can hinder your immune system. Luckily, that’s only following exercising. It’s not a long-term consequence. Yet, it’s still worthwhile to prevent it.
Consuming vitamins C and E can help your immune system. Their benefits preventing post-workout suppression aren’t clear. Yet, aiding your immune system with nutrition should be a focus. On that note, glutamine can provide outstanding benefits.
How do we translate healthy food and exercise into practical guidelines?
We can “dumb down” food’s functionality into fuel. Essentially, all nutrients fuel your body. That’s the first step to make an efficient change.
Naturally, different nutrients have different benefits. For exercise, carbohydrates and protein are priorities.
Carbs provide general energy. They fight off fatigue, dizziness, and weakness. On the other hand, protein purely fuel your muscles. It allows them to recover, grow, and develop.
Finally, we can add a third category: fluids. Fluids are crucial overall. Without hydration, the simplest exercises can feel like hell.
Before exercise meals: Fueling
As mentioned, your first goal is to fuel your body. You need the energy to carry your workouts and burn calories. As such, carbohydrates are a must-have before exercising.
Fruits, yogurt, and whole grains can be perfect. However, steer clear from saturated fats. The same goes for consuming too much protein. You don’t want digestion to get in the way.
During exercise: Brief energy boost
Of course, you won’t eat a meal while you’re exercising. However, you can give yourself a quick boost when needed.
For instance, make sure you’re staying hydrated. Don’t drink too much water at once, but do it often. If you’re working out for over an hour, try taking a banana or some raisins.
After exercise meals: Refueling and recovery
After working out, your meals depend on your plans. If you have things to do, refuel your energy. That means fluids, carbs, and protein.
However, some people work out at the end of their days. In these cases, try minimizing your carbs. Likewise, don’t eat right before bed. Digestion can worsen your sleep.
What makes the best before exercise meal?
Luckily, Healthline has fantastic insight into pre-workout nutrition. To summarize, the right meals can boost your performance and safety. It can help you minimize muscle damage, fighting off harm.
As mentioned, general energy is your primary goal with pre-workout meals. That means prioritizing the right macronutrients. For instance, carbs are perfect energy sources. Yet, too much protein can hinder your performance.
Moreover, your timing when eating before exercising matters. Head over here for better tips on that front.
Naturally, carbs are your main focus before working out. They provide most of the energy you’ll consume exercising. It boils down to glycogen—our glucose storage.
Your carb requirements depend on your training. Short and intense workouts typically aren’t an issue. Yet, longer workouts have more variables. Once you deplete your glycogen, your performance plummets.
Eating protein before working out could boost your performance. For better results, add protein to your carbs. However, you shouldn’t overdo it.
About 20 grams of protein before working out can be enough. It’ll help your muscle growth, recovery, and performance. However, it’s harder to digest, so don’t add too much.
Fat can be your best ally for longer workouts. After glycogen depletes, fat becomes the main energy source. Thus, it could be better to add healthy fats to your diet.
However, you also have to consider weight loss. When losing weight, you benefit from burning fat. In those cases, try to maintain your fat intake.
Finally, supplements are ideal before working out. They can help you boost your performance and recovery. I’ve added some supplements at the end if you’re interested.
For ingredients, creatine is the most popular. It helps you boost your muscle mass and strength. Caffeine is an obvious choice for energy. Branched-chain amino acids and beta-alanine also help muscle growth.
What makes the best after exercise meal?
On the other hand, we have to eat after working out. Thankfully, Healthline also has a great article about that.
Eating after workouts is as important as doing it before. Yet, your goals this time are a bit different. Energy is typically less important after working out. That means muscle recovery is the main goal.
However, that depends on when you work out. If it’s early, you might need more energy for the day. But, working out late in the afternoon or at night is different. You don’t want to eat too many carbs and hinder sleep.
Thus, your macronutrients here are roughly the same. The difference lies in their priority.
Protein is your priority
Protein is critical to help your muscles grow and recover. Muscle protein breaks down with exercise. Thus, rebuilding these proteins is your main focus.
It’ll also allow you to develop new muscle tissue. Besides, you don’t have to worry about digestion after exercise. As such, you can use this time to load up on protein.
Carbs are useful but depend on your routine
Particularly in endurance training, you must replenish glycogen. Likewise, carbs and protein together stimulate insulin secretion. As such, it’s better to combine them.
But, make sure you don’t consume too many carbs before sleep. You don’t want to hinder your sleep. Conversely, add extra carbs if you still have things to do after exercising.
Fat isn’t the best, but it won’t hurt
On the other hand, fat is fairly irrelevant. It can slow down your nutrient absorption. Yet, you won’t miss the benefits. As such, it’s mostly up to preference.
That said, keep your goals in mind. You might want to cut down fat if you wish to lose weight. Other than that, it shouldn’t affect recovery in any way.
Expert tips to use healthy food for exercise
Before diving into the tips, let’s clarify something. Your nutrition will vary heavily depending on your plans. Cardio and strength tend to require different nutrient portions. Make sure to ask a professional before big diet changes.
That said, the tips I’ve provided here are the foundation. You can take them and build your new diet with help. The same holds for the following five tips.
Mayo Clinic has an outstanding list of tips to optimize your workouts. What’s the key? It focuses entirely on healthy food. So, let’s see what they have to say.
Stick to healthy breakfasts
Take enough time to prepare a healthy breakfast. Your main goal is to stock up on carbs. Yet, that doesn’t mean you should forget about your health. Whole grain bread and cereals are a great choice. The same holds for juice, fruits, pancakes, and yogurt.
Portion sizes are critical
Don’t eat too much or little before working out. If you have at least three hours, go for a larger meal. If you have less than that, stick to a simple meal. You don’t want to be starving or too full before working out.
Snacks are your friends
Snacks are ideal if you’re running late for your workout. Similarly, they’re perfect for a mid-workout energy boost. Energy bars, fruits, smoothies, and crackers are ideal. For stronger training, try a granola bar or peanut butter sandwich.
Your post-workout meal depends on your workout
Your workout routine could dictate your after-exercise meal. For instance, aerobic workouts demand more carbs. On the other hand, resistance training requires plenty of protein to recover.
Don’t stop hydrating
Lastly, don’t forget hydration. That’s true before, during, and after exercise. Drink plenty of water before and after working out. During exercise, stick to brief sips throughout the routine. If you’re going for longer workouts, consider a sports drink.
The holistic takeaway
As I’ve repeated several times, these tips are the basics. You can imitate everything I’ve said here. But, you won’t find the best results.
As I explained at the beginning, this article is about mindset. My goal is to help you understand why food matters. I’m not offering a blueprint, but the theory behind what works. From here, it’s up to you to find help and get started.
The best start is always to go for a balanced diet. We rarely need specific macronutrients. Ideally, we must consume all of them in the right portions.
Finally, I also mentioned I’d recommend a few products. You can find the best fitness allies (and my reviews) below:
- Lean Belly 3x is fantastic for boosting your metabolism. It also offers a nice performance boost for workouts.
- Likewise, Flat Belly Tea is another metabolic booster. It aids digestion and nutrient absorption without sacrificing taste.
- Smoothies are the best energy boosts when you’re working out. The Smoothie Diet is my favorite recipe book for them!
- If you’re having bone issues, working out is a challenge. The Bone Density Solution has everything you need to treat them.
- The Cinderella Solution is my favorite workout and diet program around. It’s especially good for beginners!