You’ve committed yourself to the workout routine. The tough training sessions, the daily sweat and maybe even to eating right throughout the day. You’ve already mastered the hard part, but could you be getting more out of your workouts? With the right basic nutrition and recovery, you absolutely can.
This isn’t an article about downing pre-workout shakes and energy gels, but rather about providing you with basic guidelines to help maximize your workouts and results. When you stop thinking about food as food and start thinking about it as fuel, you will find that your body (the engine) has got way more horsepower and miles per gallon than you ever expected.
Before the workout: Eating before the workout can be tricky. If you train early in the morning, you don’t necessarily have the luxury of time to digest a significant meal. But rather than skip breakfast, it’s important to get something small into the stomach that’s going to be gentle and isn’t going to turn on you 30 minutes into your training session.
Ideally, it would have some fats, sugars and carbs but still be very light. A handful of berries is easily digestible and can provide a good hour’s worth of natural energy. Another strong substitute for someone on a time crunch would be half a banana dipped in honey. This can be eaten as little as 20-30 minutes before the workout with no negative impact. A little coffee can be good before the workout too, but you may need to leave a little extra time to take care of business before training begins.
Have a bit more time before your workout? Try half a bagel or English muffin with peanut butter and jelly or some oatmeal with a little fruit in it. That gives you the carbs, sugars and healthy fats your body will be craving part way through your workout. For the aforementioned items, 60-90 minutes of digestion time is recommended.
And the most important pre-workout eating tip: Don’t drink milk unless you like cottage cheese.
Post workout: Your post-workout nutrition can make or break the results of your training session, as well as your ability to recover quickly so you can get back to training. Without going too far into the science of recovery, the following tips will be greatly beneficial to your training:
Try to down a recovery meal or shake in the first 45 minutes post workout. You will want to ingest a minimum of 25 grams of protein, but what most people don’t realize is you should consume anywhere from two to four grams of carbohydrates for every one gram of protein. This meal is not only going to repair your muscles, but also refill your glycogen stores, which provide energy during the endurance portions of your workout.
If you don’t want to chug a recovery shake, other quality options include a glass of chocolate milk, chicken or fish with brown rice and vegetables, or even an omelet.
Rehydration is also critical to recovery. You not only lose fluids, but also a great deal of salt and other electrolytes, when you sweat. In addition to drinking water, try adding foods like bananas (potassium), olives (sodium) and leafy greens (magnesium) to your diet. These electrolytes aid in muscle contraction and can help prevent cramping during future workouts.
Eating the right things doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. It just requires a little preparation. Fuel the engine right and perform the proper maintenance and you will quickly see noticeable improvements in both your workout performance and recovery.
David Magida is founder of Elevate Interval Fitness, a member of the Reebok Spartan Race Pro Team and author of “The Essentials of Obstacle Racing: A Beginner’s Guide.” You can catch a class with him at Elevate on 14th Street or at its new location in the Mosaic District in Fairfax, Va.