Thinking about taking your fitness to the next level? Before you begin logging extra miles or reaching for heavier weights at the gym, now is a good time to take a closer look at what you’re eating.
Eating the right foods at strategic times can make a world of difference in your exercise performance. Whether you’re training for a half marathon or taking a grueling spin class, understanding a few things about nutrition is vital to achieving your fitness goals.
The American Heart Association’s (AHA), recommend getting 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise for overall cardiovascular health. If you’re crunched for time, 75 minutes of vigorous exercise will also do the trick
Tip #1 Eat a Carb-Based Breakfast to Fuel Longer Workouts
Some runners can’t stand the thought of eating before a run, while others feel sluggish working out with nothing in their stomach. So, it is better to skip breakfast, or to go without?
The answer is that it depends. If your workouts are under 60 minutes, the latest research suggests that exercising on an empty stomach can actually help you burn more fat. Workouts that are longer than one hour will require more fuel.
To avoid “hitting a wall” mid-workout, eat a carbohydrate-based breakfast such as wholegrain toast with peanut butter. Carbs are easy to digest and your body’s preferred source of fuel, while a bit of protein will help keep hunger at bay during those last few miles.
Tip #2 Spread Your Protein Intake Throughout the Day
Going hard at the gym and then downing a protein shake is a common strategy for many gym goers. After all, most of us have heard that consuming protein within 20-30 minutes after working out is essential to building and repairing muscle.
But numerous studies suggest that consuming protein within this short window of time isn’t nearly as important as hitting your daily protein intake (the recommended daily allowance is .36 grams/lb., if you’re wondering).
More importantly, research has also shown that distributing your protein intake throughout the day can help improve muscle mass.
In other words, protein deserves your focus the entire day—not just immediately after your sweat session. Fuel up on protein-rich foods such as fish, eggs, dairy, and nuts throughout the day to maximize the results of your workout.
Tip #3 Separate Complex Carbs from Simple Carbs
Some endurance athletes have trained their body to use fat as a primary source of fuel, but for most of us, carbohydrates still reign supreme as the most efficient form of energy for the body.
Still, it’s essential that you choose the right carbs to fuel your workouts. To keep things simple, you can break carbohydrates down into two groups: complex and simple.
Complex carbs such as vegetables and whole grains should make up the basis of your carbohydrate intake. These nutrient-dense carbs are digested slowly and provide long-lasting fuel for the body.
Simple carbs like refined grains and sugar are digested quickly and often contain minimal fiber and nutrients, but this doesn’t mean that all simple carbs are bad. For instance, fruits and milk are simple carbs which contain many important nutrients.
Bottom line: limit the obvious bad carbs such as donuts, fried foods, and candy bars and fuel up on nutrient-dense carbs instead.
Tip #4 Watch Your Fluid Intake
Dehydration, as well as overhydration, can negatively impact your exercise performance. No one wants to have water sloshing uncomfortably around in their belly during a run, nor do they want to be thirsty and sluggish from dehydration.
How much a person needs to drink depends on the individual. Some people can run a 10-miler with no fluid intake, while others prefer to bring water with them on their long runs.
If you’re running for longer than an hour or in excessive heat, it’s important to fuel up on fluids and electrolytes during and after your workout. Sports drinks and gels can be convenient, but you can also rehydrate properly by eating foods which contain electrolytes.
Related: Tips for training in the heat
Tip #5 Learn the Art of Meal Prepping
Do you struggle to make healthy food choices when you’re hungry? When we’re stressed out or crunched for time, many of us reach for whatever food is most convenient. If this sounds like a familiar problem, then consider learning how to meal prep. Making meals and snacks in advance not only helps you make better food decisions, it saves you money—and the hassle of cooking! Planning meals for the week and making them does take time, but benefits are worth the effort. Not only will eating healthy meals energize your workouts, you’ll be grateful for a quick, easy meal when you’re in a hurry.