Have you ever thought about what you should eat before a workout or something strenuous like a hike? Or when? There is infinite knowledge around this subject, however, everyone acknowledges your body uses the food you eat as fuel and to repair itself. To get the most out of your activity, you should be eating the right nutrient-dense foods at the right time. Giving your body the nourishment it requires can be as easy or as refined as you want. Someone who is a national-caliber athlete may be more specific with their diet than someone who likes to get their primary exercise doing hikes or running errands around town on their bike. Or not. You’d be surprised how similar they are. Whether you want to get in shape or are training for competition, your mind and body will benefit from practicing the basics.
Food as Fuel
It’s always best to eat at least an hour before exercise, but you’ll be fine if you eat a little sooner. Your body needs some time to break down the food to convert the sugars for fuel. For workouts lasting 30-60mins, eat a light, carbohydrate-specific meal. – Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on sourdough,
– Cup of yogurt and fresh fruit
– Chia pudding with nuts
– Small serving of oat meal with maple syrup or fresh fruitAll of these serve as a perfect pre-workout fuel. For workouts lasting 60 minutes or longer, focus on getting in more calories. A larger portion of the above mentioned foods, or my favorite, eating brown carbs instead of white will suffice. Your body takes longer to turn them into sugar so they can be stored for the fuel you need in 90+ minutes. – PB&J on whole grain wheat
– Steel-cut oats with peanut butter and molasses/maple syrup
– Banana-nut pancakes (I’ll touch more on the benefits of pancakes next time).
It’s quite common to experience that dizzying, fatigued feeling during prolonged strenuous activity (60+ minutes). That’s your body telling you that it’s eaten all the sugar available, so you’re going need to replenish or pass out (then replenish when you come to). Fueling properly before and during activity can help you avoid this. Conveniently there are endless “energy” bars/gels out there that can deliver enough calories, quickly, to keep you focused and feeling fresh. In the end, they are all forms of easy-to-digest sugar. Personally, I like to eat bananas or trail mix. Be aware, everyone’s stomach tolerance is different so something fibrous like a Clif Bar might not agree with you as well as fresh fruit like a peach, apple or banana. Personally, I prefer trail mix and bananas. Though I have been known to have a small sweetened beverage.
To start the recovery process so your body can meet the demands of your goals, there are a couple of steps that must happen.1) Eat immediately (within the hour, the sooner the better).
Was your 30-60 minute workout intense?
– No? You burned mostly fat. Have a recovery smoothie, soup or salad with fruit/veggies. You didn’t burn enough calories to require extra protein so don’t fret that. All of these will hydrate and give your body maximum nutrients with maximum fiber. Winning combination for a healthy body.
– Yes? You burned mostly carbohydrate and some fat. CONGRATULATIONS! YOUR EARNED A COOKIE OR CUPCAKE! Also, have a recovery smoothie, soup with brown carbohydrate like rice or quinoa, or salad with anti-inflammatory foods like yams or kale/collards and Vitamin-C. You still didn’t burn enough calories to go into a protein deficit so you’ll absorb what you need out of those foods.
Was your 75-90+ minute workout intense?
– No? You burned mostly fat, some carbohydrates and some protein. Have a recovery smoothie with some added protein, soup with brown carbohydrates, a sandwich, pasta with a small serving of your favorite protein, or a salad with some fruit, a little added protein and anti-inflammatory foods like yams or kale/collards and Vitamin-C.
– Yes? You burned a little fat, a lot of carbohydrate and some protein. CONGRATULATIONS! YOU UNLOCKED A COOKIE OR CUPCAKE AND A SWEET BEVERAGE! Have a recovery smoothie with added protein, soup and sandwich, large salad with a protein, some pizza, a burrito (yes, the big one) with anti-inflammatory foods like yams or kale/collards and Vitamin-C.
No matter your fitness level, the body will inevitably begin to use protein as a last resort fuel source after 75-90+ minutes of continuous activity. It’s very important to replenish this protein for muscle repair. Don’t forget: There’s protein in all foods, a little here and there adds up. Carbohydrates give your blood the fuel it needs to repair muscle tissue, so if you’re getting enough carbs, you’re likely getting enough protein.
My name is Eric Cockrell. I’m a category-2 road racer for Herriott Sports Performance based in Seattle, Wa. My training regiment varies greatly between short weekly gym sessions, 6 hour endurance bike rides (25+ hrs/week), 1 hour all-out effort rides, 100 mile road races and/or kicking my feet up with a pizza in one hand and a beer in the other. I’m vegan (10 years in 2015!) and currently ranked 8th overall in the Washington State and Northern Idaho Best All-around Road Racer (BARR) Competition. The information provided works wonders for me and friends I’ve shared with. I am NOT a certified coach or nutritionist. I am more than happy to answer any questions or cover new topics in future posts. Check back for a post on how pancakes have made me one of the fastest nerds in town on a bike and how they can help you achieve your fitness goals!