Appropriate nutrition before, during and after exercise is key to getting optimal benefit from your workout.
The goals of the individual, the type of exercise, its intensity, and duration are all factors that need to be considered when outlining an individual nutritional program. This blog will be dealing with general guidelines to help with increasing the benefit of physical activity.
It is important to be sure you are sufficiently nourished before taking part in any form of physical exertion. Carbohydrates, minerals and protein are especially important in this regard. Carbohydrates fuel the cells of the body; they are even stored in the liver and muscles. Carbohydrate storage in the liver is important for the maintenance of a carefully regulated level of sugar in the blood. Sufficient carbohydrates in the muscle protects against degeneration of muscle and is used as an energy reserve for intense physical exertion (when the demand for oxygen and sugar outstrips that which is immediately available in our bloodstream). Minerals move through the body in order to regulate many functions and are located in the blood, the extracellular fluid, and the inside of the cell. They are important in the delivery of nutrients, the production of energy, and the actions of cells such as neural transmission and muscle contraction. If the body is depleted of carbohydrates and minerals, energy will not be readily available for use. Exercise in this under-nourished state can be stressful, can lead to a breakdown of the body, and can damage the metabolism. If the body is well nourished with plenty of energy and minerals, the same exercise can be productive, boosting the metabolism and promoting positive development of the body. For this reason, taking care to use the right nutrients before, during, and after exercise is very important. Regeneration of the body’s tissues after exercise will require the appropriate amount of high quality protein throughout the day. The amino acid content of the protein consumed can help prevent muscle breakdown and increase recovery.
For the morning exerciser:
Many of us find that getting our workout in before the day really starts is important. If this is the case for you, it is also important that you are careful to get the appropriate nutrition in you at the appropriate times. During sleep, our metabolism slows down in order conserve energy during this period of fasting. Due to the lower metabolic rate during sleep, the liver is able to provide for most of the needed processing with a little aid from the fat stores. However, if there is not enough glycogen stored in the liver to maintain appropriate blood sugar, adrenaline and cortisol will be released in order to provide the needed energy, and this will disrupt sleep and lead to insomnia-like conditions. Also, during the night we lose significant amounts of calcium, which is an important electrolyte and key activator of muscle contraction. When we wake up, we are in low gear and depleted of energy and minerals.
Many people will just reach for some coffee first thing in the morning. This can be both a good and a bad thing. On the plus side, coffee will stimulate the metabolism and prepare us for exercise. On the negative side, if we have not also replenished our energy stores by eating or drinking something besides coffee, we further increase the levels of circulating adrenaline and cortisol, which leads to tissue breakdown. Thus, while we may feel awake and energetic due to coffee intake, we are starting our day metabolically stressed out and will be breaking down muscle to provide the needed energy.
In order to replenish the minerals and healthy sugars needed to provide energy for the workout, I suggest pulp free tropical fruit juice or coconut water as well as low fat or skim milk. A glass of orange juice and milk provides enough energy, minerals, and protein to revitalize your body, and it is easy enough on the digestive system to allow various exercises within 45min-1hour. If you have enough time to wait and digest the juice and milk before drinking some coffee, this can be an aid in preparing the metabolism for exercise. This pre-workout nutrition is vital to support physical exertion without stressing the body, ensuring that you can perform well and not break down the valuable muscle which aids in boosting your metabolism and burning fat while you rest and sleep. Often there is not much time between when you wake up and your workout. If this is the case and drinking a glass of juice and milk before you leave for the gym seems a bit much, drink the milk upon waking, but be sure you have liquid nutrition like the drink described below to sip on during the workout.
During the workout:
Prepare yourself a sports drink from orange juice and sea salt, adding some water to thin the mix and allow for greater hydration and more rapid absorption. Hydrolyzed gelatin protein can be added in order to provide amino acids. This drink is like a natural form of Gatorade, which will help to reduce the production of hormones during exercise that break down muscle.
When the first thing we have done with our day is quite possibly the most physically active, it is important we treat breakfast accordingly. High quality, nutrient dense foods with adequate carbohydrate and protein content are important. As most people are not excited about fish for breakfast, I would recommend eggs for protein, and having one whole egg and one egg white may be a good option as far as the balance of protein to fat. Fresh fruit, especially tropical fruit, are excellent for their healthy sugars which boost the metabolism and aid in liver function. Finish breakfast with a glass of milk to sip slowly on your way to work. Add a shot of espresso if you just can’t get the day started without your morning coffee. If you are on the go after your workout, and must pack a breakfast in to the gym, a hard-boiled egg and a few dates or raisins with a glass of skim or low fat milk will also be a great and convenient option.
The noon time exerciser:
This may be the optimal time of day for exercise, as it easily allows for replenishment of the energy stores depleted during the overnight fast. Breakfast can be eaten and completely digested before beginning the workout. Working out before lunch means a large noon time meal after the workout can deliver nutrition for optimal regeneration. There is also plenty of time to allow for the needed recovery before the body’s metabolism slows once again for the night time fast.
As breakfast has been eaten and digested, pre-workout nutrition may not be necessary. If the plan is to hit it hard, and you want to increase your body’s ability to meet the demand, there are some delicious options which can benefit energy and metabolic activity. 70-80% dark chocolate (being sure to avoid those with soy lecithin as an ingredient) can aid in subverting muscle breakdown and reduce the negative impact of oxidative stress. Cacao contains magnesium an important mineral for energy regulation – the proteins promote metabolism and detour muscle breakdown, and the fats reduce stress. Coffee and tea also contain magnesium and b vitamins, and the caffeine will increase the delivery and use of sugar in the cells. It is good to have the caffeinated beverage with some carbohydrate and fat – the chocolate, some whole milk or a little cream and sugar will do well. Be sure that this is consumed at least 30 minutes before starting your workout.
Orange juice with sea salt, hydrolyzed gelatin, and water can be used, especially if there won’t be time for a seated lunch afterwards. If lunch is soon to follow, you may just want to sip on some coconut water in order to maintain hydration and mineral balance with a little carbohydrate.
For lunch, an excellent option for protein would be seafood, especially shellfish or white fish. Baked or boiled sweet potato with a little butter would be a great source of carbohydrates with a side of fruit salad. The glucose in the sweet potatoes, along with the sucrose in the fruits, will work synergistically to aid the recovery of the glycogen stores of the muscles and liver, and all of the items above are rich in minerals which support metabolism.
The evening exerciser:
Sometimes the only time we can make time to get to the gym is when all our work is through. This presents a challenge as our energy has often been spent during the day, and we only have so much time left before sleep. It is crucial that the day contained breakfast and lunch that have kept us nourished so that our energy stores and metabolism are not being depleted and stressed. Even still, it will be important that a small meal of easily digested foods be eaten and that a well-planned dinner follow soon after in order to allow as much recovery as possible before the head hits the pillow. If your metabolism is stressed, you will have trouble falling and staying asleep and regenerative sleep will not occur.
The snack I mentioned above should be at least an hour before exercise and consist of carbohydrates, protein and fat. A great and easy option could be a bit of Greek yogurt and fruit. An excellent snack that can be prepared at home and brought to work in a Tupperware would be a shredded raw carrot salad with raisins and hearts of palm dressed with a coconut oil and apple cider vinaigrette. This would go well with a side of cheese. I personally like a Parmesan Reggiano, as it is lower in fat, higher in protein, and has plenty of calcium, which has been made easily absorbed by the traditional method by which it is produced. A glass of milk (8-12 oz.) and orange juice (4-6oz.) would also work and could be consumed closer to the workout if time got away from you and the snack was forgotten.
Orange juice drink or coconut water can be used, and it will be important to use a larger orange juice drink (perhaps adding 50% to the recipe bellow) if it will be a while before dinner. It is important not to allow a significant caloric deficit or low blood sugar to go on too long after a workout even if you are planning a substantial dinner later. Going too long without food after exercise increases the production of cortisol and adrenaline, which should naturally be falling to its lowest at this time of day in order to begin preparing the body for sleep. Throwing our body into an energy deprived state this late in the day can make falling asleep and/or staying asleep a serious chore.
If dinner is more than an hour off, a hard boiled egg and a date will provide the needed carbohydrates, minerals, and protein to fend off the stress hormones while you wait for dinner. For those who routinely exercise in the evening, it is likely the evening meal will become the most significant of the day and that a snack before bed will be necessary in order to ensure restful sleep and recovery from the workout. Dinner can be similar to the lunch described for the noon time exerciser. The snack before bed is best if it is fruit and cheese. Another option, which can be very helpful in aiding the metabolism through the night, is a glass (8oz) of warm milk with honey and salt. In order to slow the delivery of the nutrients, whole milk can be helpful. Some people do well with low fat milk but will typically need a little larger glass (12oz.) to meet the caloric need for the night.
Everyone’s needs will be different, so the amount I have suggested is only a reference point for determining your specific needs. These needs will be altered by your state of health, method of exercise, and personal goals. If your exercise is walking at a pace that does not bring on heavy breathing, mild stretching, or restorative yoga which does not create any fatigue, the recommendations above will likely be more than is necessary and can be tailored to meet your needs. If you are a marathoner or you routinely exercise at a level of intensity that brings on sweating, heavy breathing, and muscular fatigue, then you may need quite a bit of food before, during, and after your exercise to keep from stressing your metabolism.
Chronic exposure to exercise in an undernourished state can reduce our ability to recover and increase the detrimental effect of other stresses in our everyday life. Over time the body’s response to a lack of energy is to reduce the basal metabolism. This can lead to difficulty maintaining muscle mass and to increased fat storage. It also will increase the presence of inflammation and can possibly contribute to many degenerative diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Signs of overexertion, or not meeting your nutritional needs, are difficulty sleeping, not feeling rested upon waking, fatigue during the day, stubborn fat around the middle, sore throat, loss of muscle or loss of strength, food cravings (especially sugar or salt), fragile immune system, gastrointestinal discomfort, indigestion, migraines, PMS, hot flashes, loss of menstruation, loss of libido, and hair loss. If you have any of these symptoms it is important to consider how your exercise and nutrition may be related.
So in summary:
Pre-workout: Liquid nutrition containing sugar minerals and a little protein such as milk or orange juice
During: Sugar and mineral rich drink such as coconut water or orange juice (adding salt and gelatin powder can aid in reducing the stress of exercise).
Post-workout: Readily available protein and sugar, rich in vitamins and minerals, such as eggs fruit and milk.
Noon time exerciser:
Pre-workout: If you have already had a healthy breakfast, you may not need to eat anything else before your workout. An option to boost metabolism and reduce potential stress could be a caffeinated drink with a bit of dark chocolate.
During: Coconut water or the orange juice drink.
Post-workout: A large lunch containing protein and carbohydrates such as low fat seafood with sweet potatoes and fruit.
Pre-workout: Make sure that you are prepared for the workout after a long day. A snack of fruit and milk or Greek yogurt an hour or so before the workout will do well.
During: An orange juice, salt, and gelatin sports drink can aid in reducing the stress related hormones which will interrupt recovery and sleep.
Post-workout: if Dinner is within an hour of the workout, the orange juice can carry you into a meal similar to the lunch suggestion. If it will be a couple hours before dinner, a snack such as a glass of milk or a bit of dried fruit and a hard boiled egg can keep the stress hormones at bay.
Before bed: A special consideration for individuals working out intensely late in the day is an adequate before-bed snack to ensure appropriate blood sugar delivery and recovery during sleep. Fruit and cheese or a glass of whole milk are good options.
Orange juice sports drink recipe
Pulp free juice
Niacinamide (depending on health and intensity)
A good starting recipe is
8 oz. of Orange juice
4 oz. carbonated water
Adjust to suit your needs