Your alarm goes off at 6 am. You dress and make it to the gym for 45 minutes – congrats! But if you resolved to achieve fitness goals in 2019, you should look at your diet, not just your time logged at the gym.
Nutrition and fitness go hand in hand. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, specific nutrition strategies are necessary to optimize athletic performance.
To boost your efficiency in the gym and make your workout time work for you, keep these 3 nutrition concerns in mind:
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Pair Proper Nutrients Together
Have you heard the popular sentiment “carbohydrates pre-workout, protein post-workout?” Your body has limited carbohydrate stores, so a pre-workout carbohydrate-rich snack provides an energy boost to help your muscles work their best. Recovering with protein after your workout stimulates muscle repair and recovery.
However, these nutrients aren’t mutually exclusive. You need a combination of these two nutrients to maximize your fitness results. According to sports dietitian Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, “When carbohydrates and quality protein are eaten together within two hours of exercise, muscle protein synthesis is maximized.” Jones emphasizes that one meal or snack won’t help you accomplish your fitness goals alone, but by pairing these nutrients at every meal and snack, you’ll have continued recovery.
Moreover, studies demonstrate greater fitness gains–like faster cycling times, longer endurance, and better aerobic capacity–in those who eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates after their workouts. These individuals gained more muscle and lost more fat too.
To pair the proper nutrients before your workout, choose an easily digestible form of carbohydrates, like a piece of fruit. Recover post-workout with eggs and whole grain toast, which contain protein and carbohydrates, respectively.
Time Your Meals to Optimize Results
How soon before and after your workout should you eat to maximize results?
According to NYC-based Registered Dietitian, Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, eat easily digestible carbohydrates before activity. She warns that unless you’re eating over two hours before a workout, stick to something simple like “fruit, dried fruit, dates or even a few crackers.”
She continues, “If you’re eating 2+ hours before a workout, you can have a more well-balanced meal that includes whole grains, protein, and some fat. Think of a sandwich on whole wheat bread with turkey and avocado. Or nut butter and fruit on whole grain bread.”
After your workout, experts urge you to eat within the 2-hour “recovery window” to maximize your results.
Exercise tears your muscles and depletes your muscle carbohydrate (glycogen) stores. Your meal timing is significant to your results to replenish these stores and repair muscle synthesis (with protein).
Studies consistently prove that the sooner you eat, the faster your muscles recover. Specifically, researchers from Vanderbilt University fed study participants either immediately following 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 3 hours later. When study volunteers ate sooner after their workout, muscle protein synthesis and muscle carbohydrate synthesis spiked. In fact, protein synthesis was three times greater in early feeders. Glycogen stores were replenished 44% faster in those who ate immediately following moderate-intensity exercise.
Repairing muscle synthesis and replenishing glycogen stores is significant to improve your athletic performance for your next workout.
The next time you exercise, think about your post-workout nutrition before you hit the gym to ensure you’re prepared to eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein ASAP.
Eat Recovery Foods
Once you master nutrient pairing and timing around your workouts, you can take your nutrition up a notch to maximize your fitness results this year.
For example, give yourself an edge with some specific foods that are shown to improve results. According to Jones, “The nitrates provided by beets can help enhance endurance when consumed before exercise.” Jones continues, “some studies show cocoa powder may have similar benefits.”
Rizzo adds, “There is also some research that points to the fact that tart cherry juice and chocolate milk may help reduce muscle damage after an intense workout.”
These beverages may bolster recovery for different reasons. Chocolate milk is a quick and convenient drink that contains the proper carbohydrate to protein ratio, so it’s easy to sip after a tough workout. Tart cherry juice, on the other hand, is loaded with antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation.
Like most aspects of nutrition and fitness, consistency is key to see results. Habitually eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein soon after your workout, and add some bonus recovery foods. You’ll make it easier and quicker to accomplish your New Year’s fitness goals.
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