Getting a great workout goes beyond the number of reps you do or the miles you log on the treadmill (though that does help too). Regardless of what type of exercise suits you fancy, here are some tips on what to eat before, during and after a workout.
Pre-Workout: A Low-Glycemic-Index Meal
If you’re the type of person who can’t work out on an empty stomach, you may want to try this to boost your fat burn: Eat a meal made with “slow-release” carbohydrates (think: oatmeal, bran cereal, a whole-wheat bagel or toast) three hours before you work out.
Researchers assessed the rate of fat burn among eight healthy women after they ate two breakfasts: muesli with milk, peaches, yoghurt and apple juice on one day; cornflakes with skim milk, white bread with margarine and jam and an energy drink on another day. Both meals contained similar amounts of calories, but the first breakfast(muesli) was a low-glycemic-index (GI) meal, meaning it produced smaller spikes in blood sugar than the second breakfast, which was a high-GI meal. Generally, foods that contain protein, fat and fibre – and are digested more slowly – fall lower on the GI scale than those that consist mostly of carbohydrate (e.g., white bread). On the days when the women ate the low-GI breakfast, they burned nearly twice as much fat during a 60-minute walk as they did on the days when they ate the high-GI meal. Why? The muesli (low-GI) breakfast was more slowly digested so it didn’t spike blood glucose levels as high as the cornflake (high-GI) breakfast did. In turn, insulin levels didn’t spike as high either – which probably explains why the muesli-eating women burned more fat.
Staying hydrated can help you perform better: In one study, people who were just slightly dehydrated were typically only able to run, for example, about 75 per cent as hard as usual. Hydrate pre-exercise with two to three cups of water, two to three hours before exercising.
During Your Workout: Honey
To boost your energy during endurance activities, recent research suggests that carbohydrate blends (foods containing fructose and glucose) may be superior to straight glucose. But before you reach for a sports drink, consider honey: Like sugar, it naturally has equal parts fructose and glucose, but it also contains a handful of antioxidants and vitamins. (The darker the honey, the more disease-fighting compounds it contains.)
Drinking flavoured water while you’re working out might make it easier to say hydrated. In one study, people given flavoured water while exercising drank more than exercises given plain water. Choose wisely, though: Some brands can deliver as much added sugar as soft drinks, while others use artificial sweeteners to cut calorie load.
Post-Workout: Chocolate Milk
If your workout lasts an hour or more, have a glass of chocolate (or plain) milk. The carbohydrates in it will help replenish the energy stored in your muscles (called glycogen stores) and aid in muscle recovery – more so than a carb-only drink. Don’t like milk? Substitute with a post-workout snack of banana and peanut butter.
Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherry juice delivers antioxidants that mop up the harmful free radicals produced when you exercise. And research shows that a daily dose of cherry juice may help ease inflammation that causes sore muscles. One study found that runners who downed 24 ounces of tart cherry juice (about 480 calories) for seven days before a long-distance race, and again on race day, reported fewer aches afterwards than runners who drank a placebo. Skip the juice right before or while you’re exercising, though: Fructose, the primary sugar in fruit, takes longer to digest than other sugars (like those in sports drinks), so drinking juice before or during exercise may cause stomach cramps.