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  • Writer's pictureChuck Johns

What to Eat Before, During, and After Exercise

Exercise is a wonderful thing, and it's somewhat amusing to think that it took this long for it to really be embraced as part of our daily routines. Decades past saw us treat exercise as a hobby taken up only by certain people, with caricatures and stereotypes surrounding its practice in movies and on TV. The old images of a muscle-bound weightlifter and leotard-sporting big-haired aerobics guru are a thing of the past, as students and office workers these days are all about finding ways to slot in a yoga session, a basketball game, or even a quick jog into their daily schedules -- no matter how busy those schedules already are.

Food is another interesting aspect of physical fitness that has seen attitudes toward it change in recent years. Sure, there's still the unfunny "smug vegan" stereotype perpetuated by insecure comedians, but for the most part, people are making smarter choices than they used to. Many fascinating, flavorful and healthy recipes are being developed and shared on a daily basis, and cooking channels and shows are also actively taking the lead in building shows around healthy good eats. These aren't your old boring and bland wheat germ concoctions either (not that there's anything wrong with wheat germ), but affordable, flavor-filled recipes featuring ingredients that haven't always gotten the spotlight.

Of course the intersection between food and exercise is also something that has received much attention. Food is fuel, after all, and a good balance between physical activity and the food that drives it is always to a person's advantage. But this isn't something that comes intuitively, for the most part. How, indeed, does a person decide what to eat before, during, and after exercise? And should a person REALLY be eating DURING exercise?


Prior to exercise, it's all about what the body needs to get it ready for the intense physical activity it's about to get subjected to. The body will function a lot better if it has a solid well to draw from while it's undergoing the exercise, as opposed to running on virtually nothing (or, perhaps, even the wrong things). Of course, you don't want to fill up JUST before hitting the gym, but about two hours before the exercise begins.

Hydrate well. Make sure to drink a lot of water, because that's one of the first things to go one the activity starts.

Skip the saturated fats -- and even healthy protein, which is otherwise okay to eat. That's because you need your energy for the workout, and your system takes longer (and uses more energy) to digest these foods.

Don't pull a Michael Scott and eat a bunch of carbonara, but load up on some healthy carbohydrates: whole-wheat toast, whole-grain cereals with skim milk, brown rice, low-fat yogurt, and fruits and vegetables. The carbs you take in should be quick to digest, so the body isn't still digesting as you work out.

Not everybody will have this much time ahead of the workout to prep and eat, so if you have 5-10 minutes to spare, hydrate, and have some fruit.


Moderate intensity workouts that take an hour or less usually don't call for a lot of food intake, but for your longer-haul higher-intensity workouts, you may want to take a pit stop for up to 1200 calories every half hour. A banana, some raisins, or low-fat yogurt will keep you going. Keep the amounts small so your system isn't still churning through them as you work out.

Either way, it's always good to keep hydrated, as your body will lose a lot of water during your exercise session. Frequent, small sips will do you a lot of good.


After having fueled up, burned through that fuel, and kept the tank running with just enough through the workout, refueling is the next step after the workout ends.

First and foremost, rehydrate. This may come across as somewhat redundant, but you'd be surprised at how many people think they still have enough in their system. This is particularly true for people who have slotted in the workout time as part of a packed schedule.

Don't underestimate your water needs, and make sure to get plenty of it when your workout is done. Skip the energy drinks, at that -- if you want your body to replenish its carb supply through a drink, mix your water with a little bit of 100% fruit juice.

On the subject of carbs, you'll want to replenish your body's supply of those as well since your body used what you had for the workout itself. These are the main fuel the muscles use through the process of exercising. Your body will also be calling on carbs after the workout is done, in order to recover and repair. The same is true for protein, which the body will use to repair and grow the muscles that got the workout. What and how much will depend on you and your doctor's advice, as different systems function differently and have different needs.



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