Many of you want to work out and feel mighty when you do it right? A common complaint I hear is, I’m too fatigued during high intensity exercise and I have a hard time keeping up.
Some of it is the training inconsistencies, sleep, alcohol, mindset/self talk, or other barriers. But I’m here to talk about food and hydration status.
If you’re wanting to take your fitness to that next tier and feel good while doing it, then read on with these pre and post workout nutrition tips.
#1) Hydration is paramount:
Pre workout drinks for energy is not what I will be discussing today (that’s in another article if you are interested in perusing). Instead, I will focus on proper water drinking. When we exercise, we produce sweat to help remove heat from our body and ultimately regulate our core temperature. When we lose more than 2% of our body weight from sweat, especially when exercising in hot environments, performance starts to decline.
Drink roughly two to three cups of water two to three hours before your workout.
Drink about 1/2 to one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your activities. While a pound of sweat is equal to 16 ounces, it is recommended that we drink closer to 20 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of sweat lost within a few hours of exercise completion. This helps make up for some of the initial urine production that occurs with our fluid intake, and helps us get back to baseline hydration status.
Note: You may need more water if you have a larger body or the weather is warm.
Water is generally the most effective way of restoring lost fluids from your workout. However, for activities longer than 60 minutes, you may want to consider drinking something with carbs (e.g., a sports drink) to help balance your electrolytes.
Track your fluid intake with a handy dandy app such as My Fitness Pal. Any behavior change you want to happen starts with documentation.
#2) Adequate nutrition throughout the day (even if your goal is to lose weight)
Give your body the energy it needs to do the job you want, even if you are trying to lose weight. Exercise fatigue can be the motivator if you struggle with eating enough and want those feel-good powerhouse workouts.
Skimping on nutrition can reduce muscle mass, lower bone density, and cause fatigue. This puts you at risk of injury and illness, increases recovery time, causes hormonal problems, and, for women, menstrual/reproductive issues. Also something we don’t discuss much is the psychological effect of this. It’s traumatizing to endure this, and this may hinder your consistent exercise program because you won’t be motivated to go back to it.
Optimal and recommended energy availability for stable body weight and enough energy for health, performance, and physiological functions are as follows, but you may need an RDN to help you do the math:
30–45 kcal/kg of fat-free mass (females) plus the kcals burned during exercise
35–55 kcal/kg of fat-free mass (males) plus the kcals burned during exercise
These examples are before you subtract the calories you spend during exercise, and please note these are formula estimations. To get the total number of calories you need to eat, add however much your training session(s) required.
#3) Learn and love those carbs (you need them)
How many carbs do I need, you might wonder? Carbohydrates get a ridiculous wrap. But research over the past 50 years has shown that carbs help your body during long and high-intensity exercise (like HIIT). In fact, the more active you are, the more carbs you need.
But what about the trend for athletes to eat high-fat, low-carb diets? Evidence suggests these diets don’t boost athletic performance and actually hinder it at higher intensities. No thank you.
The most efficient energy for the workout means eating carbohydrates. I want you to take that in. During a workout, carbohydrates fuel your brain and muscles.
Carbs for the average workout, if you are in good shape and want to fuel a daily, light-intensity workout, eat about 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrates for every kilogram of body weight. For someone who weighs 150 pounds (68 kilograms) that’s between 200 and 340 grams a day.
Carbs for longer workouts, if you exercise more than an hour a day, you may need 6 to 10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight. For a 150-pound person, that’s 408 to 680 grams a day.
Pick healthy carbs like brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain bread and pasta, lentils, beans, bulgur, sweet potatoes, fruits, and vegetables.
#4) Protein needs
“How much protein do I need to build muscle” is what I hear a whole lot of. Protein is important because it provides the amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscle, but you need a lot less than what you might think.
Most research suggests very active people should eat 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That means a 150-pound person should eat 82 to 136 grams each day. People who aren’t active should eat less protein. Aim for .8 grams per kilogram of body weight each day.
If you’re looking to build strength and muscle, try consuming about 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day (no more is needed). Consuming a holistically balanced diet (this includes carbs!) in combination with a resistance training program, and adequate energy intake, can support improvements in strength and muscle mass. Unsure how to calculate this out? Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2, this converts your weight to kilograms. Now multiply by the referenced protein range.
Example: 165 lbs / 2.2 = 75 kg
75 kg x 1.4 g protein = 105 g
75 kg x 2 g protein = 150 g
So a 165 lbs (or 75 kg) male may need somewhere between 105 to 150 grams of protein in a day.
Good sources of protein are soybeans (20 grams per cup) and legumes like beans, peanuts, and chickpeas (about 15 grams per cup).
#5) Pre-workout fueling
Best “pre workout” for energy is about what you do regularly, not just minutes or even hours before your fitness fest. If you work out less than an hour at a time, eating throughout the day should give you enough energy. However, to avoid GI issues, you may want to avoid eating right before you exercise.
As a general rule, eat one to three hours before your workout, even if you are going to do sustained, high-intensity activity, like a half marathon. You might be wondering what to eat before your workout for energy?
Some examples are:
• A peanut butter and banana or PBJ sandwich.
• Greek yogurt with berries.
• Oatmeal with pea protein milk and fruit.
• Apple and peanut or almond butter.
• Handful of nuts and raisins (two parts raisins, one part nuts)
#6) Choose plant fats in your meals/snacks but not before your workouts:
Fat is a confusing topic for many people, but it’s essential to a healthy diet. Fat provides energy and helps your body absorb vitamins. It holds flavor too! That’s why it’s so yummy to our taste buds. Some vitamins (like A, D, E and K) actually need fat to properly benefit your body.
Be sure to pick unsaturated fats (meaning not from an animal). Good sources are avocado, olive and canola oils, flaxseed, and nuts.
But trust me, not before a workout because of the digestion time (5-6 hours). You will feel lethargic since the blood is going to your gut to digest rather than your working muscles during exercise.
#7) Post-workout fueling
Your body uses its stored energy sources during a workout. After you exercise, you need to restore those nutrients as soon as possible.
You’ll want to replenish your carbs and fluids after your workout, too. One strategy is to drink a post-workout smoothie.
• Apple lentil salad
• Teriyaki tofu kebabs
• Black bean and sweet potato chili
• Protein breakfast bars
• Brownie batter overnight oats
• Mexican lentil soup
• Tofu and spinach scramble
• Quinoa corn edamame salad
• If you don’t eat enough, don’t expect to perform your best. A low energy availability leads to a lower metabolic rate and hormonal disturbances. It also leads to menstrual dysfunction and can weaken your bones if you’re female. Approximately 30–45 kcal/kg of fat-free mass plus the kcals burned during exercise is a good place to start.
• Protein, fat (post workout), and carbohydrates are all important to exercise performance. The optimal amounts for building muscle are also suitable for peak performance.
• Aim for 1.2-2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
• 20% of your energy intake should come from fats (plant fats are optimal).
• How active you are and how much you exercise determines your optimal carbohydrate intake. 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrates for every kilogram of body weight is a good measure to try. Eating a carbohydrate-rich meal 3–4 hours before a training session improves performance. Check out the my plate format in the picture above to see a helpful meal balance throughout the day (at least one meal a day to get in that needed produce!).
• Hydrate up! Drink roughly two to three cups of water two to three hours before your workout. Drink about 1/2 to one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your activities.
Exercise fatigue symptoms that remain prolonged (longer than a few hours) means you may need to rethink your strategy.
Hopefully this helps give you an overview of some of the needs we have to perform the way we want to during our fabulous fitness sessions. I want you to feel strong and powerful so you can come back for more the next day!
On your team,
Miriam Jirari MPH, RDN, CPT, Intuitive Eating Counselor
Studio SWEAT Dietitian
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