When it comes to fitness, there are certain universal questions that experts hear almost every day: How can I get the most out of my workouts? How can I lose weight faster, burn the most calories, and feel energized enough to power through every training session? While there are other elements that may affect your unique situation, there's one simple answer that applies to all of these questions: Eat! More specifically, eat the right foods at the right time.
Like many women, I used to think the best way to lose weight was to work out hard and wait until mealtime to eat. I now know that the key to getting and maintaining a knockout body is a combination of regular exercise and eating the right foods at the right times. Feeding your body before and after every workout is essential for burning the most calories, staying energized, building lean muscle, losing weight, and speeding up recovery.
The Importance of Eating Before Your Workout
Whether you eat or don't eat before exercise, research shows the body burns the same amount of fat. However, you can actually cause muscle loss if you regularly work out on an empty stomach. Here's why: When you're hungry, your body goes into survival mode and draws protein from muscle instead of from your kidneys and liver, where the body normally looks for protein. When this happens, you lose muscle mass, which can ultimately slow your metabolism and make it harder for you to lose weight. Plus, if you exercise on an empty stomach, you're not giving yourself the fuel you need to power through an intense training session. (Eat one of these snacks before your next workout and turn your body into a fat-burning machine!)
What to Eat Before Your Workout
The best pre-workout bite contains some form of complex carbohydrate and a protein. Here are some of my favorite meals and snacks to keep me energized during my workout without weighing me down.
- Brown rice (1/2 cup) with black beans (1/2 cup)
- Small sweet potato with steamed or lightly salted broccoli in olive oil (1 cup)
- Banana with almond butter (2 tablespoons)
- Multi-grain crackers (10) with hummus (3 tablespoons)
- Oatmeal (1/2 cup) with berries (1 cup), sweetened with stevia or agave
- Apple and walnuts (1/4 cup)
The Importance of Eating After Your Workout
During exercise, your body taps the fuel stored in your muscles known as glycogen for energy. After you've cranked out that last rep, your muscles are depleted of their glycogen stores and broken down. Eating (or drinking) something that combines protein and carbohydrates 30 minutes to an hour after your workout refills energy stores, builds and repairs your muscles that were broken down, and helps keep your metabolism burning strong.
The sooner you start refueling, the better off you'll be. Research shows that your body's ablity to refill muscle stores decreases by 50 percent if you wait to eat just two hours after your workout compared to eating right away. Try to plan ahead and bring your recovery drink to the gym, or pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to eat when you're finished. (Jelly isn't the only way to enjoy PB. Whip up one of these healthy peanut butter recipes for your next snack or meal.)
What to Eat After Your Workout
According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine, consuming protein and a little carbohydrate is best immediately after exercise. Here are the foods I eat after my training sessions to help speed up recovery, maximize exercise benefits, and help maintain lean muscle to aid in weight loss.
- Protein shake made with half of a banana, one scoop of protein powder, almond milk, and hemp seeds (excellent protein source)
- Salad with roasted chickpeas (1/2 cup), light olive oil and vinegar
- Sautéed or steamed vegetables (1 cup) with non-GMO tofu (1/2 cup)
- Quinoa bowl (1 cup) with black berries (1 cup) and pecans (1/4 cup)
- Multi-grain bread (2 slices) with raw peanut butter (2 tablespoons) and agave nectar
- Burrito with beans (1/2 cup), brown rice (1/2 cup), guacamole (2 tablespoons), and salsa