Our bodies are awesome and complex machines. But our hectic lifestyle often lends us to forget to treat them as such. Most people are now learning the importance of exercising, but most of us ignore the one thing that has the biggest impact on our health – nutrition. I’m not just talking about “eating healthy” – I am talking about EATING SMART.
What do I mean when I say EATING SMART? In a nutshell, our bodies need different types of food (or combinations of food) to fuel different types of exercises for maximum efficiency and recovery. Cross-training is an extremely popular mindset in exercise, and rightfully so. It creates equilibrium in the body. Generally, cross-training involves different types of exercises that include strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility. So if you are smart and jumping on the cross-training bandwagon, make sure you cross-eat too!
Strength training is an extremely important form of exercise, which includes weight training in the gym, boot camp or sculpt classes, or any weight training activity. Strength training helps to strengthen our bones as we age, build and preserve our muscle mass, and burn calories more efficiently. But, alone, it is not an adequate form of cardiovascular exercise.
Cardio is necessary to keep our heart and cardiovascular system healthy. It also helps to lose or maintain weight, promote better sleep, and reduce stress. Forms of cardio exercise include running, high intensity interval training (HIIT), walking, swimming, and cycling.
Last, but not least, is flexibility training. Grossly underutilized in our culture, stretching and Yoga, have numerous benefits, a few of which include injury protection, improved muscle tone and strength, stress reduction, decreased chronic pain, and improved focus.
All of these different forms of exercise require different forms of nutrition to fuel your workout, as well as to recover afterwards. Below are some examples of pre and post-workout food choices that help you to get the maximum benefit from your exercise. Make sure to eat your pre-workout snack/meal at least 1 hour before you exercise to minimize digestion interfering with your training.
Pre-Workout Fuel For:
Cardio and Interval Training
High intensity workouts need a larger amount of complex carbohydrates to produce sufficient energy needed. For a quick option, a good quality fruit and nut bar is great as long as there aren’t added sugars or preservatives. Some other great choices include: whole grain toast with organic jam, oats with nut butter, quinoa (I like it cooked like oatmeal with cinnamon on top), or brown rice with avocado and tomatoes.
When you weight train, you actually break down your muscle fibers. Therefore, larger amounts of protein are needed to help rebuild your muscles, along with a small amount of complex carbohydrates. Examples of some great meal/snack options include: egg whites with a slice of whole-grain toast, Greek yogurt with raw almonds, raw celery sticks with almond butter and chia seeds sprinkled on top.
Yoga / Flexibility Exercises
The key to fueling for yoga practice is to eat something light yet sustaining. There is nothing worse than trying to get into a nice twist, only to feel your giant burrito get in the way! With some yoga classes upwards of 90 minutes, you also need something that will satiate you throughout the entire workout. Some great light options include: an apple or pear, unsalted almonds, bananas, apricots or prunes, Greek yogurt with simple granola (no added sugars), or a slice of whole grain toast with some mashed avocado.
Regardless of the exercise, most post-workout snack or meal options should be similar in makeup. Essentially, you should consume complex carbohydrates to replenish energy stores and lean protein to help rebuild muscles. For maximum effectiveness, you should consume your post-workout food between 30-60 minutes after your workout.
Here are a few tried and true post-workout choices I love: one small sweet potato with a hard-boiled egg, an apple with almond butter, quinoa or brown rice with grilled/steamed chicken breast and steamed vegetables, or a slice of whole-grain toast with nut butter and banana slices. When time is of the essence, a good quality protein shake will suffice (I prefer an organic whey protein), however I feel real food is by far the better option.
Regardless of which type of exercise you are doing, one thing remains constant across all formats, and that is WATER! Dehydration can really negate even the best workout. So make sure you are adequately drinking water prior to any exercise regimen. You should drink 1-2 glasses of water at least an hour before any workout and then at least 1 glass post-workout.
The best gauge for your food choices is how YOU feel, so make sure to pay attention to how different foods sit with you before, during, and after each workout.
Bon Appetit- Be Inspired!