Healthspan Blog

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What to eat & drink before & after working out

6th June 2006

On my way out of the gym the other day, I noticed something I had overlooked before – the rack of nutrient and protein bars. I’ve never given much thought to who eats these or why but seeing them made me wonder – What are the best food choices for me to eat after a workout? I usually just head home and have some cereal or yogurt, but are those good choices? I sought some answers.

What I found is that my cereal and yogurt are pretty good snacks post-gym. A snack high in carbohydrates is great immediately following a workout and should be followed up with 3 – 4 ounces of lean meat or protein within 45 minutes of work out completion.

The carbs help restore the glycogen levels in the muscles. Glycogen is an energy reserve in the muscles and the optimal time for absorption of glycogen is immediately following a workout.

The protein helps repair torn muscle fibers and new muscle growth. Since I’m far removed from a bodybuilder, about 20% of my calories should come from protein. My 8 ounce cup of yogurt has about 8 grams of protein, and about 8% of my calories, about 40% of the protein I need to eat in a day.

Water intake is never a problem for me; I drink it up like a fish (do fish ever get thirsty?). But there is a simple way to calculate out how much to drink immediately after working out: take in 2 cups of water for every pound of weight lost during a workout (most gyms have scales to allow you to monitor pre- and post-workout weight.)

Protein and nutrient bars contain 1-2 servings each of carbs and protein, about the same as my yogurt or cereal with milk snacks. If I were ever in a pinch, they would be a good post-workout choice.

So, what about eating before the gym? Carbohydrates are best before a workout because of the whole glycogen-energy thing. My muscles will use the fuel from the pasta or fresh fruit to perform my best. But high-fiber and gassy foods like broccoli, beans or bran could cause gas pain during a workout. Fatty foods are almost always bad, workout or not. Sugars and candy are great for a rush of energy, but I’m a crasher and have been known to burn out real quick if I munch a Snickers before the gym.

Next time I’m headed to the gym with an empty kitchen, I’ll pick up some Fig Newtons or a carb-loaded bar on my way. And drink lots and lots of water.

Mary Smith

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