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Food as Fuel Pre and Post Workout Nutrition

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By Lindsay Stephenson UNC Chapel Hill MPH/RD Candidate Have you ever felt dizzy or nauseous at the end of your workout? Or have you ever finished a workout and wanted to eat everything in sight? These scenarios have probably happened to many of us at one time or another. Fueling before, during, and after a workout is key to being able to get the most out of exercise and help our bodies recover. As you will see, nutrient timing is just as important as what you eat! Although there are hundreds of nutritional supplements on the market, you can get the same benefits, for less money, with whole food. Below you will find some common questions regarding nutrition around exercise. Question #1: Should I workout on an empty stomach if I train in the morning? While you are sleeping at night, your body is still working – your heart is pumping and your muscles are being repaired. If you eat dinner at 6 pm, perhaps have a small snack at 8 pm, and wake up to workout at 6 am, your body has not had fuel for the past 10 hours. In the morning, your body’s glycogen (energy stores) is low and your cortisol levels are high. Cortisol is one of your body’s stress hormones. Eating, or “breaking the fast” will cause your body to release insulin, which will lower your body’s cortisol levels. Prolonged elevated cortisol levels have been shown to have many negative health effects such as a decrease in muscle tissue, impaired cognition, and blood sugar imbalances. Take 5 minutes the night before to lie out your workout clothes and pack a portable snack that you can eat on the drive or walk to class. A piece of fruit, a small granola bar, or a yogurt could help fuel your body through your morning workout. Question #2: When should I eat before an afternoon workout? There is no perfect timing or magic food that will work for everyone. It may take some experimenting to see what works best for your body. If you have eaten a meal containing complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats within 3-4 hours, you may not need any additional food. Complex carbohydrates include foods such as brown rice, oatmeal, wheat bread, or sweet potatoes. If you haven’t eaten in the past 3-4 hours, plan on having a snack within an hour of exercise. Fat is metabolized slower than carbohydrates so opt for a high carb, low fat snack if you will be doing high intensity exercises such as spin classes. For low or moderate intensity exercises such as yoga, you may want to include healthy fat as well. Also, avoid high fiber foods right before exercise because they can cause stomach discomfort. Some good pre-exercise snacks include: • Fruit, such as a banana or raisins • Handful of dry cereal such as Cheerios • Plain popcorn • Small handful of trail mix  Question #3: Should I eat or drink during my workout? For classes at Ride that last 45-75 minutes, water should be sufficient to avoid dehydration. If you experience muscle cramping during class, you may want to drink a sports drink containing electrolytes 1 hour prior to class. Question #4/5: What should I eat after my workout? Does it matter how long I wait to eat? After you complete your challenging workout, your body’s fuel stores are used up and need to be replenished. Your muscles are also damaged yet primed for nutrient uptake. The “metabolic window of opportunity” is approximately an hour after exercise and a very important time to provide carbohydrates to refuel your body and protein to help rebuild muscles. Some good post exercise snacks include: • Greek yogurt with berries • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter • Turkey and cheese slices with apple slices • 2 hard boiled eggs and small bunch grapes • Homemade granola or trail mix If you plan on eating a meal within an hour after exercise then you may not need a post workout snack. With a little planning, fueling your body for optimal performance will become easier. By eating before and after your workout, your body will not only fuel your body for exercise but will also help with recovery. Just remember that everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for someone else. If you have specific nutrition questions, schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian.

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