A healthy lifestyle combines physical activity with a balanced diet. The effectiveness of a workout doesn't just depend on what you eat, but when you eat it. Make your workout work for you--learn what to eat before and after you hit the gym.
Before the Gym
When you first wake up, your blood sugar can be low because you haven't eaten all night. It's best to eat something light before exercising, keeping a few guidelines in mind. Don't eat sugary or high-fat food. Don't eat very much, to avoid cramping.
Though juice may seem healthy, a glass of orange juice--or other sugary drink--is not the best choice before a workout. Fruit juice contains a lot of sugar, which can cause your blood sugar to spike then crash--perhaps in the middle of a workout. Instead, choose water, a protein, and a complex carbohydrate like high-fiber bread or cereal for breakfast. Your body breaks these down more slowly, providing a steady rise and fall in sugar level.
Afternoon and Evening
If you work out later in the day, have a snack before you exercise to improve performance. Christine Rosenbloom, a sports nutrition expert at Georgia State University, recommends carbohydrates and lean protein before a hard workout. Rosenbloom suggests eating whole fruits and vegetables for healthy carbs. Lean protein sources include chicken, low-fat cheese, cottage cheese, lean beef, and some fish, like salmon. Take the time to eat a balanced meal or snack. Be sure to drink plenty of water a few hours before you exercise.
After the Burn
Eating after a hard workout is essential to replacing the energy you burned during exercise. However, if you want to build muscle, you need to pay close attention to what you eat after resistance exercises.
Rosenbloom recommends eating about 10-20 grams of protein after exercising. Half a cup of low-fat cottage cheese contains about 10 grams of protein; an egg contains about 6 grams. The trick is to eat soon afterwards, when the muscles are still recovering and growing. Eating carbohydrates gives you energy and protein helps muscles grow. Good options include tuna, eggs, or protein powders that you can add to smoothies. A study from The Journal of Nutrition found that eating whey protein for up to 24 hours after resistance exercise helps to build muscle.
Remember to stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise. While drinking water is best, consider a sports drink or coconut water for longer workouts or in hotter weather. These drinks contain an added boost of carbohydrates (sugar) and electrolytes.
The Number One Rule
Though these recommendations are all important, there is one guideline that is perhaps the most important: pay attention to what works for you. Listen to your body. Workout responsibly.