You’re headed out the door to your usual Saturday workout, and you know you need to have a little snack. You quickly scan the pantry to see what HITT-worthy options you have. Raisins? Crackers? Peanuts? Your beloved Captain Crunch? You settle for a granola bar and head out, hoping your snack choice will keep your energy up during that intense HITT workout. And then, 36 heart-pumping minutes later, you’re DONE. You’re sweaty, tired-yet-energized, and are feeling pretty proud of yourself. Should you eat now? If so, should you focus on protein? Carbs? Or, just maybe, does your exercise session give you license to eat whatever you want? Theories abound about what to eat, and even whether or not to eat, before and after you exercise. The truth is that what you choose to eat and drink can have a significant impact on how your workout makes you feel, and the impact your exercise has on your body.
- Carbs count. Before your sweat-session, go ahead and snack on some carbohydrates. This often-villainized food group is necessary to properly fuel your muscles. Carbohydrates get stored as glycogen, which your body calls on to endure through that last set of reps, or final cardio sprint. When the glycogen is depleted, we’re fatigued and have “hit the wall.” Not only that, but when our body runs out of glycogen to burn, it then starts to tap into some of the muscle tissue we’ve worked so hard to build. Aim for a combination of complex and simple carbohydrates (think: oatmeal with sliced peaches, whole-grain bread with banana slices, or whole-grain crackers with some apple slices and nut butter). They burn at different rates, providing you ample energy every step (or push-up, or jumping-jack) along the way.
- It’s also a good idea to have some caffeine before your workout as well, for the little extra lift and energy it can provide. Don’t run out for handfuls of tiny bottles of caffeine mega-doses, promising to keep you wired for hours, however. Too much caffeine can make you jittery, nervous, and even nauseated – NOT a great addition to your workout. It might take some trial and error to find the right amount of caffeine to make your workout seem just a little easier.
- Stay away from the idea that your workout gives you ultimate license to indulge in your favorite treats. While it is true that intense exercise keeps your metabolism revved higher than normal for hours afterwards, the calories you’ve burned with your exercise are usually just a small percentage of what’s hidden in that German chocolate cake. Instead, within a 30-45 minute window, go for a combination of protein and carbohydrates. This magic duo helps to rebuild what was depleted during your workout. Smart choices include a glass of dairy milk with fruit, a turkey wrap made with a whole-wheat tortilla, or some Greek yogurt with a sprinkling of oats.
- Put down the French fries. Forgo the fatty and/or salty foods during this time. Fats slow down our metabolism – yes, the very metabolism you just worked so hard to raise. You want to get the nutrients from your protein/carb dyno-snack to your muscles as quickly as possible during this time, with protein being the key post workout nutrient. If your options are all protein, or a mix of fat, carbs and protein, choose the all-protein option and even double down on it if you are starving.
- Steer clear of the salty stuff – your pretzel craving can wait. Salt and exercise share one commonality; their ability to lower potassium levels. With this important electrolyte already depleted after our workout, you don’t need to tank it further by adding salty stuff to your snack.
Making a few modifications to what you’re already doing nutrition-wise can make a significant difference in your exercise experience. Following these snacking tips will help you to complement, rather than fight, the progress that your workouts are making in your body.
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