Welcome to Health Hacks! I’m Jessie Groth, a Registered Dietitian with ISS Guckenheimer. Warmer weather and longer days urge us outside this time of year, and that often translates to being more active. Whether your activity of choice is tennis, CrossFit, or training for your first 10K, what you eat and drink before, during, and after a workout matter. That’s why this episode, we are health hacking exercise nutrition – how to fuel your workout.
Moving our bodies requires an energy source – we need fuel in the tank to get the car moving! This energy is stored in the chemical bonds of carbs, fat and protein we get in our diet, with carbohydrates being its preferred source of fuel. The carbs we eat are broken down into glucose, and enter our cells to fuel our day. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen in our liver and muscles. When we exercise, it is these glycogen reserves that power our performance. While we can and do use our fat stores for fuel as well, glycogen offers an advantage over fat stores, as it provides more energy per volume of oxygen that can be delivered to our body cells, maximizing our exercise efficiency. Bottom line: Carbs power performance. If you haven’t eaten enough carbs before a workout, or exercise for a prolonged period of time without refueling, you’ll likely feel weak, tired, and tempted to call it quits!
Where does protein fit into the equation? Exercise, and especially strength training, creates small tears in our muscle fibers. During recovery Carb time between workouts, the body repairs those micro-tears, building up muscles to be bigger and stronger than they were before – and it needs protein to do so. While dietary protein can be used as an energy source, it is typically spared from this so that tissue maintenance, repair, and growth can be prioritized.
So how do we digest all this information into the best way to fuel our workout and optimize muscle recovery? In the 30 minutes to 3 hours prior to a workout, eat a mix of simple, digestible carbohydrates and a little bit of protein. Here are several great examples (will be on slide). Whether this mix of carbs and protein looks more like a meal or a snack is personal and largely depends on how close you are to working out – if it’s first thing in the morning, a snack may be best so you are not still digesting as you hit the gym floor.
In the post-workout phase, a mix of carbs and protein are again important to reload your glycogen stores and rebuild and repair your tired muscles. But don’t go reaching for that Gatorade or protein powder scoop! In the past, fast-digesting protein powders were recommended to get amino acids into your muscles quickly. However, new research shows these may get into our system too fast to maximize protein synthesis and repair. In other words, there’s no real evidence that protein powders are any better for us than whole food protein after training. Along the same line, consuming whole food carbohydrates is a better choice than the refined sugars in sports drinks, and has been shown to restore glycogen equally over a 24-hour time period. The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend 15-25 g of protein within 2 hours of exercise, while carbohydrate needs will vary depending on length and intensity of exercise.
Do you need to eat during your workout? Likely not. Unless you are working out intensely for an hour or longer, the main focus should be hydration, so be sure to bring plenty of water. Drinking 2 cups of water in the 2-4 hours before the workout, and a ½ cup every 15 minutes during the workout is sufficient for most individuals. Sports drinks may be needed in situations with extreme heat or excessive sweat loss.
Need motivation to get moving? Recent study of 1.2 million Americans published in the Lancet suggests that exercise not only supports reduced disease risk, but also helps improve mental health and happiness! Participants who reported exercising regularly tended to feel bad for around 35 days per year, whereas non-active participants felt bad for 18 days more on average. So get moving and get happy!
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