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Exercise Nutrition: what to eat before, during, and after exercise

What is good exercise nutrition? If you workout regularly, you need a balanced diet that supplies energy in the form of carbohydrates and fats, protein for the repair and building of muscle, and essential vitamins and minerals.

Good exercise nutrition should be based on a diet in which you derive approximately 50-60 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 25-30 percent from fat, and 15-25 percent from protein.

That is achieved by eating a variety of foods - fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean meats and fish, and low fat dairy products. It's also important to get plenty of water.

Perhaps the biggest debate in exercise nutrition right now concerns the percentage of protein in an athlete's diet. While many experts recommend that no more that 10-15 percent of the calories in the diet be derived from protein, there is compelling evidence that increasing the percentage of protein to around 25% can aid in both building muscle and reducing body fat.

There are numerous forms of carbohydrates, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, processed carbohydrates (bread, pasta, white rice etc), and sugars. In order to ensure you get sufficient fibre, vitamins and minerals, it is recommended that you aim to get most of your carbohydrate calories from fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

Looking at what you should eat when, the following guidelines should help you to maximise your performance.

Before a workout:
Eating a high carbohydrate food such as a banana or a bagel 1 to 2 hours before a workout helps to keep sufficient blood glucose available for the muscles during your workout. For strength training, there's also good evidence that you should consume some protein prior to your workout. Protein takes at least two hours to be absorbed by the body, so consuming it before the workout will ensure that it is available to the muscles when you finish your workout. You should also be sure to drink some water before your workout to ensure that your muscles are well hydrated.

During a workout:
During a workout you should drink plenty of water, at least a half a cup of water every 20 minutes of exercise. Sports drinks are not necessary unless you are working out for longer than 90 minutes.

After a workout:
After a tough workout, glycogen stores may well be depleted. Consuming high carbohydrate food or drink right after exercise will replenish glycogen stores and help your body to recover better - getting you ready for the next workout!

However, if weight loss is your goal, waiting a while before eating high carb foods will encourage your body to continue burning fat even after the workout finishes.

Finally, about two hours after your workout, eat a balanced meal with a good mix of carbs, fat and protein.

Eating the right foods at the right times will ensure that you stay healthy, and get the most from your workouts.



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