Helpful Food Tips For Your Workouts

By: Michael Engle

In a recent New York Times article, "Workouts May Not Be the Best Time for a Snack," Gina Kolata examines the intersection between food and exercise. Though there are some universal truths in fitness nutrition, most "rules" are, in fact, personal and must be discovered on a person-by-person basis. So what are some good food tips for working out?

A general list of rules of thumb, from the article, includes:

  • It is generally good to follow a moderate workout with a meal, but it need not be elaborate or meticulously planned. A simple, "healthy" meal with plenty of fluids will generally suffice.
  • Once endurance workouts stretch past two hours at a time, your body will start to need carbohydrates. In this case, it is wise to eat before and/or during the workout.
  • According to dietary research, it is never wise to lose more than 400 calories (net) in a day. In other words, if you burn 1500 calories in a run, make sure to consume at least 1100 calories in the same day.

Specialty foods, such as individual pouches of "gel" or energy bars, as well as sports drinks, exist. But it is a common fallacy that they are universally beneficial, or even essential. In fact, over-eating before or during a workout may render the day's exercise completely moot. After all, though it may be "workout food," there are still plenty of calories that are consumed; depending on your level of fitness or your workout's intensity, this may represent too many calories.

However, the most important rule, aside from "know your body," is "introduce change gradually." Whether the change is as bizarre as pumpkin pie at the 75-mile mark of a 100-mile bike race, or as seemingly benign as an energy gel pack during a marathon (both true events, as mentioned in the article), it can throw your body into a funk and ruin your day.

When I was a hockey player, my meal plan was a simple one before each game: a plain whole wheat waffle an hour or two before the opening face-off, a sip of Gatorade right before warm-ups, more Gatorade as needed during the intermission, and a well-balanced meal afterward, with more Gatorade and/or water. In addition, contrary to all "official" advice, I would always dilute my Gatorade with equal portions of water, because factory-standard Gatorade always tasted too sweet to me. I could never imagine having a Diet Coke before a game, even if it was in Wayne Gretzky's routine!

For a list of the best workout foods, click here.

Photo:Official U.S. Navy Imagery

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