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Food to Fuel Your Workout

Exercising? Here's what -- and when ­ to eat
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

You want your workout to burn the most calories possible. So to really get your metabolism running, it makes sense to work out on an empty stomach, right?

Wrong! It may seem counterintuitive, but you're much better off eating a snack or small meal before you exercise.

Of course, what you choose to eat and when you eat it are important to the success of your workout -- and have a profound effect on how your body uses the calories.

Timing Is Everything

Let's look at the early-morning exerciser, who hits the gym soon after jumping out of bed. It has been hours since his last meal, and his blood glucose is at the fasting level. This person is running on empty.

When your "gas tank" is on empty, your body starts to break down amino acids from your muscle mass and converts them to glucose for energy. Instead of burning fat, you're in danger of breaking down valuable muscle tissue.

To tap into those dreaded fat stores instead, eat something nutritious before you exercise. It's also a good idea to refuel after exercising with a nutritious and hydrating beverage.

There is a wealth of evidence on the role that nutrients play on blood sugar and insulin, and their effect on your energy level.

For instance, if you get up in the morning after an eight-hour sleep and down a glass of orange juice, the simple carbohydrate in the juice rapidly sends your blood sugar to elevated heights. This rise in blood glucose is followed by a rebound fall -- leaving you feeling weak and without the necessary fuel to work out. That glass of orange juice will do little to appease your appetite, so chances are you will also feel hungry.

Now, if you add a bowl of high-fiber cereal and skim milk to that glass of juice, instead of the surge in blood sugar you will have a nice, steady rise and a slow fall over the course of several hours. This meal, containing simple and complex carbohydrates, low-fat protein, and fiber, should give you enough energy to fuel your workout while helping to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

Choosing the Right Foods

Protein and fiber slow the absorption of food in your stomach. The action of these nutrients helps maintain a normal rise and fall in blood glucose and normal insulin response.

Insulin is produced in response to the amount of glucose in the blood; its role is to help get glucose into the cells. So when your blood-glucose level surges, insulin production increases, to help shuttle that extra glucose into the cells. And what goes up must come down. When your blood sugar falls, you feel hungry -- even if you just ate two hours earlier.

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