How Food & Exercise Are Connected
Have you been trying to fit exercise into your daily routine? Did you know that the food you eat can make a big impact on the outcome of the exercises you are doing? It’s true! And if you are putting in the time and effort to work out, you definitely want the best outcome possible!
With so much information on the internet, it is sometimes hard to know what the best choices are before and after a work-out. So, we have asked Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Noelle Martin to help us take a look at the best pre-workout and post-workout snacks and meals, and also share a few of the best exercises that you can do right at home to keep your mind and body physically healthy and fit.
What to Eat as a Pre-Workout & Post-Workout Snack
Okay, so let’s dig into that burning question: What should I eat before and after I exercise?
Everyone is a little different as to how quickly they metabolize food and how full they prefer to be when being active. But in general, having a small meal or snack about 1-2 hours prior to your workout is best. For maximum energy, try to include a “long acting” carbohydrate with a source of protein. And ideally, limit foods that are really high in fat or cause gas in your pre-exercise snack. For example, avoid high bran cereals and certain fresh veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts if you are heading for a run or to a spin class in the upcoming few hours.
Here are my top recommendations for a pre-workout snack or meal:
- Whole grain pita with low fat swiss cheese, Tomato, Cucumber, and spinach
- Whole grain crackers with tuna salad and sliced Cucumbers
- Steel cut oats with Greek yogurt and berries
- Whole grain wraps with almond butter and banana
- Roasted sweet potatoes with chicken
- Piece of whole grain bread with natural peanut butter
- Homemade granola with Greek yogurt
- Energy ball prepared with oats and/or quinoa and nut/seed butter
Do I Need Nutrition During My Workout?
Usually, no. Your body does not need additional nutrition as long as the aerobic part of your workout is less than 60 minutes. If you will have your heart rate up in the aerobic stage for longer than 60 minutes, then you will want to consider a source of quick acting carbohydrates in the form of a sports drink. It is important that you do not dilute these as they are made to be absorbed rapidly to be used for energy. It is recommended to have 0.1-0.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight every 20-30 minutes when active longer than 60 minutes. This translates into about 4 oz. every 15 minutes and will provide you with electrolytes and hydration in addition to the glucose available. Ideally, sports drinks are only used during exercise when warranted by extended physical activity. You can also make your own sports drink using orange juice, water, and a pinch of salt.
After you are done exercising, your body is at its highest metabolism. This means that it is ready to be fed and will digest and absorb nutrients rather quickly. It is best to enjoy a snack within 15 minutes of finishing your workout and then another snack or meal within the following hour. When choosing this snack, you are looking for “quick acting” carbohydrates to feed the brain and central nervous system and replenish your glycogen stores, as well as protein to repair and support the building of muscle tissue. If you consume too much protein with inadequate carbohydrates, your body will use the protein to service its carbohydrate needs, instead of using protein for muscle building and repair. And the process that the body uses for this is not ideal. This is not a time to make your body work harder to get what it needs!
So, what is that “ideal post-workout snack”? Chocolate milk or soymilk with Cucumber slices! Okay, so I know what you are thinking… IT HAS SO MUCH SUGAR! Yes, it does, and that is why it is a great choice. Post-workout is one of the few times that we actually want to consume a quick-acting sugar. Your body needs to know that you are there to nourish it. The key part here is not just consuming the chocolate milk, but also the timing. Research has shown us time and time again that consuming 1 cup of chocolate milk within 15 minutes of the end of your workout is best and contributes to the best results such as increased muscle mass, reduced muscle wasting, reduced overeating later in the day/evening, and overall a better metabolism. Recommendations from research would go on to say that we should consume another healthy meal or snack again within 60 minutes of consuming the chocolate milk.
And why pair it with Cucumber slices? Because Cucumbers are made up of 95% water, crunchy, and cold. This makes them one of the perfect re-hydration snacks for eating post-workout.
What about if you really do not like or want chocolate milk or chocolate soymilk? You can make a smoothie that is similar in its ratio of carbohydrates to protein. The goal is 3 grams of carbohydrates to every 1 gram of protein, but who has time for that math after a workout? So, let’s look at some tasty ideas.
The Nature Fresh Farms Tropical Kale Smoothie, Cucumber Mojito Mocktail, Cucumber Mango Smoothie, and Sweet Bell Pepper Smoothie are all incredibly refreshing options! You could add ½ cup Greek yogurt or ½ scoop of your favorite protein powder to the first three smoothie recipes for a boost in protein. The Bell Pepper Smoothie already has that boost in the recipe!
A blend of your coconut milk or almond milk with frozen berries, sliced bananas, and ½ cup of Greek yogurt or ½ scoop protein powder also works well.
If you prefer to make a snack that you can eat, instead of drink, you could try:
- ½ cup cottage cheese, 1 cup pineapple, ½ cup diced Cucumber, ¼ cup granola
- ¾ cup vanilla Greek yogurt with 1 cup berries
3 More Ways to Support Your Exercise Habits
The food you eat before and after you exercise is important; however, it is only one part of the story. There are three other important steps you can take for the best exercise outcome:
It is important to stay hydrated! Dehydration can cause a dip in our energy levels. If you are not a big fan of plain water, try adding Cucumber and pineapple or lemon and raspberries to it for a boost of refreshing flavor! Aim to drink ½-1 cup of water for every hour that you are awake and 1-2 cups of additional water for every hour that you exercise.
It is important to get enough rest. A tired body has a hard time moving and a tired mind has a hard time focusing. Aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep at night and rest your muscles by changing up your exercise routine.
It is important to aim for healthy, balanced meals every day, not just before or after a workout. When your body consistently gets enough energy, protein, and vitamins and minerals such as iron, thiamin, folate, and vitamins B6 and B12, it functions so much better. Aim to eat 5-7 times per day filling your plate with colorful vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and high-quality protein sources as often as possible. Here are a few delicious recipes to help you meet that goal:
- Lemon Garlic Chicken with sweet potatoes, diced Peppers, and peas
- Whole grain crackers with Avocado Chicken Salad
- Chicken & Pepper Cobb Salad
- White Fish with Quinoa Medley
- Tex-Mex Egg White Bites
Easy Exercise Ideas to Get You Motivated
Are you looking for ways to fit more exercise into your day? No matter how busy life is, making time for physical activity is always worth it! Getting your heartrate up and increasing your muscle mass is amazing for bone health and metabolism. You can improve your mental health when you challenge yourself physically, as well. You may feel like you need a gym or expensive online membership for help with this, but it’s so much easier than that! You can step outside, try a FREE online workout, or set the timer and do 1-minute interval training for 7-21 minutes. Here are a few of my favorite ways to stay active.
Whether you run, power walk, bike, or play a little soccer in the field with your kids, getting your heartrate up and body moving is always a good idea. If you are new to these types of workouts start small by going around the block and then add an extra 1-2 minutes each day until you are going the distance you want to. If you currently have a long walking route, try adding 1 minute of running in, and gradually add more over time.
Free Online Workouts
There are literally thousands of online workouts that you can access through Fitness Blender and YouTube. One of my favorites on YouTube is Barre3. It offers a beautiful combination of resistance, flexibility, and low-impact cardio that strengthens the body and mind at the same time.
Looking for something even faster that you don’t need any equipment or a computer for? Try this 7-minute workout! Do each of the following for 50 seconds with 10 second breaks in between. Repeat a few times throughout the day, or back-to-back three times for a challenging 21-minute HIIT workout:
- Jumping jacks
- Wall sits
- Running on the spot with high knees
Set Yourself Up for Success
Creating a fitness planner can help you stay on track with your fitness goals. At the start of each week, write in the type and timing of your exercise for each day, from 7-minute HIIT training, to hour-long walks, and everything in between! Exercising is more likely to happen if you write it down and treat it like a meeting with yourself. And don’t forget to nourish yourself well so that you can get the most out of every workout!