Feb 02 2009
What to eat before, during, and after exercise
What you eat and drink before, during, and after exercise lasting an hour or longer has a huge impact on your energy levels. Each person’s digestive system is a bit different, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you.
The general guidelines are:
- eat 1-2 hours before you start exercise
- choose foods that are mostly carbohydrate because it’s digested quickly and provides a good source of energy. Carbohydrate is in bread, cereal, fruit, pasta, milk/yogurt, and vegetables. Aim for 30-50 grams of carbohydrate if you’re exercising for an hour or less; up that to 50-75 grams of carbohydrate if you’re exercising for over an hour.
- Avoid foods that are high in fiber, because fiber slows down digestion and could lead to cramping or nausea while you’re exercising. This is NOT the time for All-Bran cereal!
- Aid a little bit of protein for staying power. Turkey, eggs, lean ham, soy products, peanut butter or milk/yogurt/low-fat cheese are options. Aim for 7-20 grams of protein.
- Avoid fat, since it takes longer to digest and can cause nausea or cramping.
Some examples are:
- ½ bagel or a mini bagel with peanut butter
- Peanut butter and crackers
- Granola and cereal with milk and fruit (or use yogurt instead of the milk)
- Oatmeal made with milk and fruit
- Turkey, ham, or peanut butter sandwich
Make sure to drink water with your pre-exercise meal or snack as well to stay hydrated.
Any activity that lasts longer than an hour requires refueling during exercise. The goal is to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour (the amount varies with your tolerance as well as the intensity of the exercise; the harder you work, the closer to 60 grams carbohydrate per hour you need). You can use a combination of a sports drink such as Gatorade and food, or use water and foods. Liquids are digested faster and more easily if you have a sensitive stomach. In addition to the carbohydrate which keeps your brain and muscles functioning during exercise, sports drinks and foods also contain sodium and potassium, which are electrolytes found in sweat. Even when it’s cold, you sweat and need to replace both fluid and the electrolytes.
- Gatorade, Powerade, Accelerade, Heed or other sports drinks that have about 15 grams carbohydrate per 8 ounces.
- Clif Shot Bloks, with 24 grams carbohydrate per 3 pieces (there are 6 pieces per package, with a total of 48 grams carbohydrate)
- Gu or other sports gels, with 25 grams carbohydrate per serving
- Sports beans, which are similar to jelly beans but formulated with the correct amount of carbohydrate, sodium, and potassium, with 25 grams carbohydrate per package (about 14 pieces)
- Granola bars such as Nutrigrain bars (about 30 grams carbohydrate per bar) or Odwalla bars (about 40 grams carbohydrate) or other bars that are mostly carbohydrate and low in protein and fiber.
- Pretzels, with about 25 grams carbohydrate per ounce
- Ritz Bitz crackers, with about 15 grams of carbohydrate per ¼ cup
- Fig Newtons, with about 10 grams of carbohydrate per cookie.
As a general guideline, try drinking 4-6 ounces of water or sports drink every 15-20 minutes. Try eating some food or using one of the sports products every 45-60 minutes. Remember the goal is 30-60 grams of carbohydrate total, from foods and beverages, each hour of exercise.
Anytime you exercise for an hour or longer you should eat within 30 minutes to help your muscles recover. Muscles store carbohydrate in the form of glycogen, and they’re ready to fill up their tank right after exercise. That way you can exercise again the next day without feeling tired and worn out. Your body needs a combination of carbohydrate and protein in that first 30 minutes, optimally in a 4:1 ratio where you get 4 grams carbohydrate for every 1 gram of protein.
- bagel and peanut butter
- turkey, ham, or peanut butter sandwich
- energy bar such as Clif bars or Nature Valley bars
- low-fat cottage cheese and fruit
- chocolate milk or a smoothie
- soup with veggies and protein, like chicken noodle or beef barley
Be sure to drink 8-16 ounces of water or sports drink as well.