What to Eat Before, During, and After Exercise

From the WebMD Archives

What you eat could make your next workout better, whether you're just starting to exercise or you’re an athlete in training.

Eating right can help energize your workout. Which foods are best, which should you avoid, and when should you eat?

Sports nutrition expert Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, shares her tips.

What is the best thing to eat before exercising for energy and endurance?

You need quality carbs, lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and fluids.

Your muscles rely on carbohydrate foods like breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables for quick energy.

You need protein for your muscles and for your blood cells, which bring nutrients and oxygen to your muscles.

You also need fluids, or your body will have a hard time performing at its best.

Is there an ideal meal to eat before exercise?

There's no one meal that you need to eat before working out. Instead, focus on these 5 things:

  1. Low fat
  2. Moderate in carbs and protein
  3. Low fiber
  4. Includes fluids
  5. Made up of familiar foods that you tolerate well

A grilled chicken sandwich or a slice of cheese pizza might fit the pregame meal description, but stay clear of the fried food (including french fries), greasy burgers, and soft drinks.

Also, a pregame meal isn't the time to try a new food.

Why is it so important to drink plenty of liquids during exercise?

Water acts as your body’s cooling system. You don't want to get dehydrated.

The best way to stay hydrated is to drink plenty of fluids with meals, and drink about 2 cups (16 ounces) of water 2 hours before exercise.

Is it better to stay hydrated with sports drinks or plain water?

Water is often enough. But if you're exercising for more than 60 minutes in hot, humid conditions, sports drinks may help. They give you carbs and sodium, as well as fluids.

Sports drinks are also a good choice if you play team sports like soccer or football, especially when the temperature and humidity are high. If you sweat a lot, a sports drink might be preferable to water.

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Is it bad to exercise on an empty stomach, especially in the morning?

It depends on the type of exercise. A brisk walk or light jog on an empty stomach is fine; just drink a glass of water before heading out the door.

For more intense exercise, eat some easy-to-digest carbs (a packet of instant grits, a slice of toast, half a plain bagel, a banana, or a cup of fruit cocktail washed down with a glass of water) to help provide fuel.

Do you need to eat protein after exercising?

It's a good idea, because it helps your muscles recover and grow.

Your muscles don’t care if the protein comes from a hard-boiled egg, glass of chocolate milk, or whey protein shake.

Whatever you choose, more isn’t better. You need only 10-20 grams of protein for your muscles.

With so many sports drinks, bars, and more to choose from, how do you make the best choices?

A good sports drink has 14-15 grams of carbohydrate in 8 ounces. It should also have about 110 milligrams of sodium and 30 milligrams of potassium in the same volume.

If you're exercising to lose weight, stick to water or a "lighter" version of sports drinks with fewer carbs and calories.

Look for energy bars that have about 5 grams of protein, with some carbohydrate and very little fat.

Remember that "energy" means calories, so watch out for high-calorie bars. They are helpful for athletes on the go, so if you can't eat before a long tennis match, an energy bar can help.

Choose protein powders made from whey protein or milk proteins. Use them within 30 minutes after exercising to provide needed amino acids to muscles.

What are gels, and what role do they play?

Gels are good if you're an endurance athlete. Otherwise, you don't need them.

Gels are concentrated forms of carbs. They can help long-distance cyclists and runners get some quick fuel during exercise. Since they are so concentrated, you should wash them down with water to prevent stomach upset.

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Is carb loading a useful strategy for long-distance athletes?

Carb loading is stocking up on carbohydrates before a sporting event. It's gone out of favor with most athletes. You don't need it if you eat enough carbs while you're training.

You should only consider carb loading if you're doing very hard, continuous exercise for 90 minutes or more, and you're working with a sports dietitian.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 19, 2013

Sources

SOURCE:

Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, CSSD, author, Sports Nutrition; nutrition professor emerita, Georgia State University, Atlanta; sports dietitian, Georgia State Athletics; owner, Chris Rosenbloom Food and Nutrition Services.

Sources

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