Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Food to Fuel Your Workout

So I was posed with a question a while ago from K_InTheFlo:

What types of food should you eat that are best to fuel your work outs?

Good Question! A good question to which I had no answer because I was still trying to figure it all out for myself for my work outs. So I said I'd have to do some research and get back to her......

Team Six Pack works at answering your hard hitting questions!!

I had to think about it for a while....

Then of course there were periods of severe distraction.....

I thought perhaps buying a book on the subject might help......

Phfffft! Who does research like that anymore??

So then I turned to the tool that I should have started with all along....

Of course it's true! I read it on the interwebs!

And now Viola! (almost two stinkin' months later) I have some answers!

To make this post easier to follow I'm going to break it down into sections:

1. Eating BEFORE Exercise & How Much
2. Types of Foods to Eat (Carbs & Proteins)
3. Water Breaks!
4. Eating AFTER Exercise
5. How Many Meals A Day Should I Eat?

Here's a great Q&A article from the New York Times Health Section to get us started:

"Eating to Fuel Exercise"


How important is the timing and type of food and fluid when it comes to exercise?
I take the approach of thinking of food as part of your equipment. People are not going to run well with one running shoe or ride with a flat tire on their bike. Your food is just like your running shoes or your skis. It really is the inner equipment. If you think of it this way, you usually have a better outcome when you’re physically active.
What’s the most common mistake you see new exercisers make when it comes to food?
There are two common mistakes. Often somebody is not having anything before exercise, and then the problem is you’re not putting fuel into your body. You’ll be more tired and weaker, and you’re not going to be as fast.
The second issue is someone eats too much. They don’t want to have a problem, so they load up with food, and then their stomach is too full. It’s really a fine line for getting it right.
From my own personal experience I have to say that this is DEFINITELY TRUE! It is a very fine line. If I work out on an empty stomach I don't have as much energy and eventually I feel nauseous. But on the same note, I also know that if I eat a large meal even two hours before I'm ready to play a soccer game, I feel sluggish and nauseous! I know that I can only eat very small meals before working out.

For example 1/2 a PB&J sandwich on whole grain toast or 1/2 a of Pemmican bar or a small bowl of cereal with non-fat milk, or 1 small banana.

Here's more info on small meals:
At what point before exercise should we be eating?
I like it to be an hour before exercise. We’re just talking about a fist-sized amount of food. That gives the body enough food to be available as an energy source but not so much that you’ll have an upset stomach. So if you’re going to exercise at 3 p.m., you need to start thinking about it at 2 p.m.

Can you explain more about what you mean by a “fist-size” of food?
That’s just a good visual for the amount. It could be something along the lines of a granola bar. I’m not a fan of the low carb bars. You need carbs as an energy source. We can’t really just do a protein bar. You want something in the 150 to 200 calorie range. That’s not enormous. Maybe a peanut butter and jelly wrap cut into little pieces, a fist-sized amount of trail mix. The goal is to put some carbohydrate in the body before exercise as well as a little bit of protein.
What if I’m planning a long run or bike ride that’s going to keep me out for a few hours? Should I eat more?
If we put too much food in the stomach in advance of exercise, it takes too long to empty and that defeats the purpose. We want something that will empty fairly quickly. If you’re exercising in excess of one hour, then you need to fuel during the exercise. For workouts lasting more than an hour, aim for about 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour. We’re not going to be camels here. Some people use gels, honey or even sugar cubes or a sports drink.

2. WHAT TYPES OF FOODS TO EAT (Complex Carbs & Lean Proteins)

Why is it that peanut butter sandwiches come up so often as good fuel for exercise?
It’s about having carbohydrate with some protein. It’s inexpensive and nonperishable. That’s a big deal for people, depending on the time of day and year. They’re exercising and they don’t want something that will spoil. Peanut butter is an easy thing to keep around.

More Details on Carbohydrates & Proteins

Here's some info from the Mayo Clinic on Carbs & Proteins!

Carbohydrates: Your body's chief source of fuel
You'll feel better when you exercise if you eat foods high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Your body stores excess carbohydrates as glycogen — primarily in your muscles and liver. Your muscles use stored glycogen when needed for energy.
A diet containing at least 50 percent of calories from carbohydrates allows your body to store glycogen, but if you're a long-distance runner or you exercise for long periods of time, you might want to consume more carbohydrates regularly and consider carbohydrate loading before a big athletic event.
  • Good carbohydrate sources include cereals, breads, vegetables, pasta, rice and fruit.
  • Foods high in fiber and fructose right before an intense workout may cause problems. High-fiber foods, such as beans and lentils, bran cereals and fruit, may give you gas or cause cramping. Fructose, a simple sugar found in fruit, can increase the tendency for diarrhea with high-intensity exercise.
  • Consider beverage sources if you don't like to eat solid foods before exercising. You can drink your carbohydrates in sports beverages or fruit juices. Do what feels best to you.

(this I why I'm a firm believer that low carb diets are unrealistic or don't work for healthy weight loss! Balance of fruits, veges, lean proteins and carbs is key!)

So what Types of Carbs should you eat???

Stay away from refined Carbs or Carbs with added sugar! Such as white bread, cookies, cakes and candies etc.

Say YES to the Complex Carbs you find in whole grains! Such as whole grain wheat bread, or other products made with whole grain wheat flour.

List of Complex Carb grains: Bran, Wheatgerm, Barley, Maize, Buckwheat, Cornmeal, Oatmeal

Here's some more info from
Healthier foods higher in carbohydrates include ones that provide dietary fiber and whole grains as well as those without added sugars.

What about foods higher in carbohydrates such as sodas and candies that also contain added sugars? Those are the ones that add extra calories but not many nutrients to your diet.
Quick Q& A
I've heard there are "good" carbs and "bad" carbs? Can you provide me more information?
Some diet books use "bad" carbs to talk about foods with refined carbohydrates (i.e., meaning they're made from white flour and added sugars).

Examples include white bread, cakes, and cookies.

"Good" carbs is used to describe foods that have more fiber and complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are carbohydrates that take longer to break down into glucose.

These terms aren't used in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Instead, the guidelines recommend choosing fiber-rich carbohydrate choices from the vegetable, fruit, and grain groups and avoid added sugars.

It is also recommended that at least half of your daily grain choices are whole grains.

And Now on to Proteins!

Protein and fats: Important, but not your body's top fuel choice
Protein isn't your body's food of choice for fueling exercise, but it does play a role in muscle repair and growth. Most people can easily get the protein they need from food sources and don't need additional protein supplements. Good protein sources include:
  • Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts
Fat is an important, although smaller, part of your diet. Fats, as well as carbohydrates, can provide fuel for your muscles during exercise. Try to get most of your fat from unsaturated sources such as:
  • Nuts
  • Fatty fish
  • Vegetable oils
Avoid fatty foods just before exercising, though. Fats remain in your stomach longer, causing you to feel less comfortable.
What types of Proteins Should I eat?

Stay away from fatty proteins such as beef (any prime cut), ground beef, or pork

Say YES to lean proteins such as chicken or turkey breast meat, fish, eggs, beans, canned tuna in water, and cottage cheese


What about water? How much should we be drinking?
About an hour before the workout you should have about 20 ounces of liquid. It takes about 60 minutes for that much liquid to leave the stomach and make its way into the muscle. If you have liquid ahead of time, you’ll be better hydrated when you start to be physically active.

What do we need to know about replenishing fluids as we exercise?
Everybody has a different sweat rate, so there isn’t one amount of liquid that someone is going to need while they exercise. Most people consume about 8 ounces per hour – that’s insufficient across the board. Your needs can range from 14 ounces to 40 ounces per hour depending on your sweat rate. Those people who are copious sweaters need to make an effort to get more fluid in while they exercise. I’m a runner, and I can’t depend on water fountains, so either someone is carrying water or you bring money. Store keepers always love that when you give them sweaty bills!
But nobody can be a camel. If you aren’t taking fluid in you have a risk of heat injury and joint injury, and strength, speed and stamina diminish.
This is an important part of any training. Put fluid back into the body during exercise.
Should we keep sipping fluids while we’re exercising?
How we drink can make a difference in how optimally we hydrate our body. A lot of people sip liquids, but gulping is better. Gulps of fluid leave the stomach more rapidly. It’s important to do this. It seems counterintuitive, it seems like gulping would cause a cramp. People are more likely to have stomach cramps sipping because fluid stays in their gut too long.
When you take more fluid in, gulps as opposed to sips, you have a greater volume of fluid in the stomach. That stimulates the activity of the stretch receptors in the stomach, which then increase intra-gastric pressure and promote faster emptying. This is why gulping is preferred.


Does the timing of your food after you’re finished exercising make any difference?
Post exercise, my rule of thumb, I like for people to eat something within 15 minutes. The reason for that is that the enzymes that help the body re-synthesize muscle glycogen are really most active in that first 15 minutes. The longer we wait to eat something, the longer it takes to recover.
If people are really embarking on an exercise program and want to prevent that delayed-onset muscle soreness, refueling is part of it. Again, it’s a small amount – a fist-sized quantity. Low-fat chocolate milk works very well. The goal is not a post-exercise meal. It’s really a post-exercise appetizer to help the body recover as quickly as it can. You can do trail mix, or make a peanut butter sandwich. Eat half before and half after.


Do you have any recommendations about the frequency of meals for people who exercise regularly?
If you have breakfast, lunch and dinner and a pre- and post-exercise snack, that’s at least five times a day of eating. When people are physically active, anything under three meals a day is not going to be enough.

Ok there you have it! Now that you're super informed and smart on this topic here's the most important thing to remember:

Every body is different!!! Modify this information to work with YOUR body!
You may require more or less food, or more or less water, or more or less time between meals and work outs. Take this information and make it work (as Tim Gunn would say) for your needs.!

Resources for further reading:


Whitley said...

This blog is so freakin' informative, I love it! I also joined Spark People since you recommenced it so well, and it's great. We are hoepfully moving out of our apt soon, and when we get a house,we might have room for a home gym. I'm really looking forward to it.

Team_SixPack said...

Thank you Whitley!! I really appreciate the feedback! It helps to know that the posts are helpful for my readers! That's my goal with the blog :)

Glad to hear you signed up for spark people! I'm trying to make sure I keep tracking my food so I know I'm meeting my goals.

KinTheFlo said...

OK FINALLY - I made it back! what a cullen library amout of great info! I will be back to reread.
I see that if i workout for more than an hour I should eat something at the gym..that makes sense. I'll do it!
Thanks Girl. You are Team Thorough! I'm also so thrilled for you about the Marathon! so after my cramps subside I'll be back to better fitness! just a few days.
Go Team Six_PAck!