The Best Time to Eat to Maximize Your Workout Effort

There are several schools of thought regarding eating and exercise. One school says that you should not eat before you workout at all. One says that you should have a small snack before working out and then again after you finish. The timing of food and exercise is important, but it is equally important to pick the right foods. After all, if you eat something that is too big or heavy, you will feel sluggish and will not be able to exercise up to your full capacity. On the other hand, if you are hungry or dehydrated, you will not be at your best either and you may feel dizzy, weak or tired in the middle of your workout or immediately afterward.
There are several things that you should keep in mind when exercising, especially if you are working out for long periods of time or are working especially hard, including when to eat and what to eat. No matter what kind of workout you are doing, you should make sure that you are getting enough to drink so that you do not get dehydrated, which can lead to serious health problems if it is prolonged.
David is an endurance athlete, Allen is a strength trainer and Varonda is a new exerciser. Varonda enjoys a few different types of exercise, but she is not sure of how to eat or when to do it so that she can make the most of her time and effort. According to David, she should eat huge portions of protein, while Allen says that she should eat higher carbohydrate meals. Depending on the type of workout that she is about to do, they both might be right.
All three athletes should start with a healthy breakfast, unless they are going to work out immediately. If so, they should have a light snack that could include bananas or a glass of milk. Another option is an apple with a little peanut butter. If you are going to have a large breakfast, it should be three to four hours beforehand. A smaller meal or light snack can be eaten an hour before the workout. No matter what type of workout you do, replenishing the energy that has been burned through exercise is very important, especially in the case of very intense workouts.
Allen, the strength trainer, tends to eat a small snack before his workout, which can last around two hours and involves lifting very heavy weights as he trains for an upcoming competition. If he does not, he will not see any muscle gain because his muscles will continue to burn energy for up to 24 hours after the workout ends.
Without a new source of food, including protein, during this time, the rate of protein breakdown will exceed synthesis, equaling a loss of lean muscle mass. For his most intense workouts, Allen should have protein both before and afterward. He can use whey protein powder supplements, which are beneficial because whey is a fast protein, easily assimilated in the body and is high in the amino acids arginine and lysine, which stimulate a growth hormone called IGFI. Whey also contains glutamine, which can prevent fatigue and overtraining. Whey is also the highest natural food source of branch chain amino acids (BCAAs), which have the benefit of being assimilated directly to muscle tissue.
If Allen would prefer not to use whey protein for any reason, he can use chocolate milk as a post-workout recovery drink, which will give him both protein and carbohydrates for fast energy and muscle recovery. However, if he has any problems with lactose intolerance at all (which would rule out the use of either option,) he can use Proasis, an all-natural liquid protein supplement from Profect which is lactose-free and hypoallergenic. It is also available in a number of flavors and will give him more protein per serving than other choices would (25 grams per 100 calorie serving.)
David, the endurance athlete, prefers to eat a carbohydrate- and protein-filled breakfast three hours before heading out for a run. He is working his way towards doing a second marathon, with the hopes of improving his time performance from the first one that he ran. Because he knows that an extremely high amount of protein can hurt both his endurance and maximum effort, he will use a smaller amount of it before his workout, replenishing afterward so that he does not have any problem with muscle loss. His diet plan includes: 55-65% of complex carbohydrates, 25-30% of fat and 12-15% of protein. (Source: Quinn 2007) While some people may think that the fat content in this diet plan is fairly high, they should keep in mind that his calorie burn is excessive while he is in training and he is working towards running over 26 miles at one time.
While he is taking in a smaller protein count, David still uses a protein supplement, especially as a boost immediately after he is done with his run. Profect, another protein supplement from Protica, is also a small liquid, but has 25 grams of protein per serving and can be consumed in seconds. Like Proasis, it has several different flavors to choose from.
Varonda does not have a set plan for eating, nor does she have a set workout. She may wake up and feel like doing yoga or Pilates or may go for a run. Some days she does some strength training and some days she goes for a swim. No matter what kind of workout she chooses to do, she should base her eating on how she feels before and afterward. If she feels lightheaded or dizzy during or after her workout, she should eat a little more the next time; if she feels sluggish during the workout, she should eat less. Varonda is also using Profect after her workouts, which is helping her not only to replenish her protein but to stay full after she is finished. At one time, she was working out and then driving home from the gym with her hand in a fast food bag because she was famished. She was not losing weight like she wanted to because she was constantly eating the wrong foods. Now she has Profect, which is only 100 calories but contains 25 grams of protein which keeps her full and happy. She drinks the single-serving shot and then drives home with nothing but her water bottle beside her.
All three must be careful to watch their protein intake because a high-protein diet can lead to dehydration, even in a highly trained athlete. It is possible that 3 out of every 4 Americans are chronically dehydrated, which is dangerous because a small decrease (2-3%) reduction in body water can have a negative impact on athletic performance and cardiovascular health. (Source: Quinn 2004)
References
Mayo Clinic Staff Eating and Exercise: Time it Right to Maximize Your Workout
Elizabeth Quinn High Protein Diets Cause Dehydration, Even in Trained Athletes October 22, 2004
Elizabeth Quinn, High Protein Diets and Sports Performance: Are the Atkins and South Beach Diets a Good Choice for Athletes? October 31, 2007

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