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What to Eat Before, During, and After Exercise

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.

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.

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Reviewed on June 19, 2013

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