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How to Fuel Yourself Before, During and After a Workout

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I ran my first 10 K, slightly reluctantly and ever so slowly but, you know what? I got hooked. It was a girls' weekend away and I really had no intention of doing anything more than walking a beautiful course in Bermuda while dreaming about the spa visit at The Fairmont Southampton in the afternoon. But, I got into that pack of people all pumped and excited and I caught their enthusiasm. Given that I am pretty fit and run about 5 K a few times per week at the gym (but on a treadmill rather than tropical hills!), I figured, this was doable even though I hadn't trained. So I took off, found inspiration from the people and the vistas and ran (well, jogged).

I know how crucial it is to support any exercise regime with the right food, and the older you get, the more important it is. Filling your tank well and ensuring that your exercise is actually doing you more good than harm can't be stressed enough. The day before and on run day (yoga day, spin day, zumba day, weight day, cardio day...), it is all about the fuel. The day after, it is also critical to nourish cell recovery with the right food. So what is that?

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10 hours before exercise

Do:

Have a meal of low GI, easily digestible carbohydrate like lentils or beans will allow your muscles to take up as much glycogen as possible. The protein/carb balance of beans is perfect.

Don't:

  • Drink alcohol, it's dehydrating
  • Eat a heavy protein or fat laden meal, it will weigh you down and interrupt your sleep
  • "Carb Load" with spaghetti and bread, they will let you down too quickly

Two to four hours before

Do:

Eat Breakfast -- It is true that you will burn more fat if you exercise first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. But you will tire too quickly and may run the risk of burning the very muscle you are trying to build.

Magic Muesli
Oatmeal with milk
Whole grain cereal with banana and soy milk
Protein smoothie

Don't:

  • Have bacon and eggs
  • Skip Breakfast
  • Forget to hydrate with water or coconut water!

One hour before workout

Eat a high glucose, easily digestible snack like these power balls.

During:

:

Around the one hour point, your glucose and blood sugar levels will drop and you may become fatigued or light headed.

Do:

  • Drink four to five big gulps of water per hour
  • Consider coconut water over sports drinks
  • eat two pitted medjool dates

Dates are a fresh fruit high in the all important glucose with the added benefit of recovery minerals and anti-oxidants. They are just as easily digested and portable as a "power pack."

Don't:

  • Slurp a commercial energy gel which is a highly processed, often corn syrup-based packet. They don't contain the antioxidants or minerals of a real food that will support you in recovery.
  • Drink sports drinks unless you are exercising for more than 2-3 hours and coconut water isn't available

Recovery:

Do:

Drink lots of water.

Within an hour or two after exercise, your muscles will be calling for replenishment. Feed them the highest quality food you can find. (If you are going to "cheat" with a treat, now is the time, your body can use the extra calories quickly and efficiently).

Have a full meal with lots of vegetables, lean protein, preferably fish, and a good whole grain carb (like brown rice or quinoa or whole grain bread).

Don't:

Drink alcohol before you eat. Since your muscles are primed for more fuel, and they can't use the calories from booze to do so, those calories will be converted to fat. Give your body the kind of calories it needs to recover and then have a drink if you are going to. Remember, alcohol is also further dehydrating. Water up.