If you need energy to exercise, and energy comes from food, then what you’re fueling your body with will determine how efficient and effective your exercise is.
Sue Travis, RD, PhD, of the division of nutritional sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., shares what you want to put in your body and when, to get the most out of your workouts:
The Right Diet for Exercise
The volume of food a person requires varies with age, sex, weight, and activity level. The rate at which a person burns calories will also change depending on type of exercise, and how intense the activity is.
Travis emphasizes that it’s important to divide your calories between carbohydrates, protein, and fat:
- Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates — sugars and starches — are broken down by the body into glucose, which muscles use for energy. Extra carbs are reserved in the liver and tissues in the form of glycogen, and is released when needed. Glycogen fuels high-intensity exercise and is responsible for prolonged endurance.
- Protein. Protein should be part of each of your major meals because it will help slow the absorption of carbohydrates. Fish, eggs, chicken, meat, and beans are excellent sources of protein, and 3 ounces per meal is enough.
- Fat. Don’t ignore fat – you need it as much as carbs and protein! Low-fat dairy products, like 1 percent milk, and lean cuts of meat will provide the fat your body needs.
Timing Meals and Snacks
If you simply can’t eat before working out in the morning, be aware that you’re at risk of using up all your stored energy. Try to have at least a small piece of fruit if you refuse to have a full breakfast before hitting the gym.
For strenuous, high-intensity workouts, eat a high-carb meal at least 3-4 hours before exercising, prioritizing food that are easy to digest. Play around with different foods to see what gives you the most bounce in your step!
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