Pre and Post Exercise Nutrition
What should I eat before I exercise? How much time should I give myself? What should I eat after I exercise? How long should I wait?
Like most things in the field, the answer to all these questions is the oh so infamous…you guessed it: it depends. It depends on the type of exercise you are doing, the duration and intensity of the exercise, and, most importantly, it depends on the individual. Although all these variables create a certain level of complexity to the answer, there are a few simple guidelines to consider:
Consume easily digestible foods pre-exercise that will limit GI distress. Stay away from foods high in fat, which typically take longer to digest than carbs and protein, as well as food high in fiber (some complex carbohydrates). Essentially, stay away from foods that will make you feel full while you’re exercising.
The closer you get to exercise time, the higher the ratio of simple carbs: easily-digestible protein you should stick with. A good example would be a banana with peanut butter.
Be aware of sports drinks high in fructose before, during, or after exercise. It has been known to cause GI disturbances.
General rule of thumb: do not experiment with new foods before exercise/competition. Stay with foods that you have eaten before that you know sit well with you.
Post-aerobic exercise (cardio) calls for a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates: protein to properly replenish glycogen storages (chocolate milk, rice cake with peanut butter, smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt).
Post-resistance training will shift this ratio from 4:1 to closer to 3:1 carbs: protein. When we stress our muscles during strength training, they break apart in order to build back up stronger and more resilient to the forces we just placed on them. For this process to occur, our bodies need the raw materials (amino acids) to build muscle proteins.
Recent research has shown that this 20-30 minute post-exercise window for anabolism (muscle building) is not as tight as we once thought. In fact, we can probably wait as long as a few hours after strength training to refuel with protein and carbs without effecting our training adaptions. Also, the closer we eat pre-exercise, the longer we can wait post-exercise (and vice versa). This is promising for individuals who don't have much of an appetite immediately after exercise. Don’t force food down if you don't have to!
Consider your goals: if your goals are weight maintenance, make sure you are properly replenishing the calories you lost during exercise with the right foods.
The marriage between nutrition and exercise is not an exact science, and one must always consider that every individual is different. A nutrition plan for a two similar people on the same exercise program may work great for one person and not so great for the other. It is best to use these as guidelines, but not set in stone rules!
Stephanie Spoto, CSCS