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Your mother likely told you to wait an hour after eating before you engage in strenuous physical activity, such as exercising. That’s not the only rule to consider when exercising though: you should also be aware of the foods to eat before and after working out. Whether you’re doing cardio or strength training, working out takes a lot of energy and can leave you feeling depleted. Most people don’t have the time to take it easy for the rest of the day after working out, so what can you do to reduce the exhausting effects of exercise? It turns out that eating the right foods before, during, and after exercise can help you stay active even after engaging in a serious workout.

Foods to Eat Before and After Working Out: Pre-Workout

Running on a treadmill or lifting heavy weights requires tons of energy. If your body doesn’t have that energy ready to be burned, you won’t get a good workout—you’ll get tired after running for a few minutes or you won’t be able to lift as much weight as usual. Get your body ready for strenuous exercise by fueling it with foods that contain carbohydrates for quick energy and protein to prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue. Fat really has no place in a pre-workout meal, as carbs and protein can provide all the energy you need at that point. You’ll want to stay hydrated as well, so drink some water before exercising. A common recommendation among sports physicians is to drink two cups of water two hours before your workout.

Food shouldn’t be a huge concern while you’re in the middle of your workout. If you have the time to think about a delicious bowl of ice cream while exercising, you should probably think about upping the intensity. Some people use protein bars or granola bars to keep up their energy, but if you’ve eaten properly before the workout, there shouldn’t be any reason to stop in the middle of exercising to force down a protein bar. Workout sessions typically don’t take long enough to warrant the use of food.

However, you should definitely stay hydrated: most people do just fine with water. If your workout sessions last longer or are especially strenuous, you may want to consider a sports drink. Remember, however, that these drinks are often packed with sugar and can easily throw a wrench in your weight loss plans by adding hundreds of extra calories to your diet.

Foods to Eat Before and After Working Out: Post-Workout

Many people are too exhausted to even think about food after working out. If you’re primarily doing a cardio workout such as running, a post-workout meal won’t be as important. If your workout involves strength training, however, you’ll definitely want to eat a proper post-workout meal to ensure that your muscles begin to repair themselves as quickly as possible. Again, a post-workout meal should have a balance of carbohydrates and protein; the protein is important because your muscles need the amino acids to repair themselves, while the carbohydrates temporarily cause insulin spikes and ensure that energy is quickly delivered to the muscles. Even if you’re just performing cardio exercises, you might find that a balanced meal of carbohydrates and protein helps you feel re-energized more quickly. Whey protein powders are popular in post-workout meals: they’re easy to prepare and can be consumed quickly.

Ensure that your body has the energy and nutrition it needs by consuming the right foods to eat before and after working out. All weight loss programs benefit from the addition of exercise, and staying well-fuelled is the best way to ensure that your workouts don’t leave you feeling totally exhausted.

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