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Nutrition month is here and soon the spring season will be upon us. This is the time where most people are starting to become more active. Maybe you are going to hit the gym hard core to get into shape or start training for a fitness event. Whatever the reason, many people will be exercising more and it is time to talk about proper fueling.
In my experience, when coaching clients at my private practice, I see many people not preparing for their upcoming exercise routine, often describing their experience with a workout as ‘tiring’ and feeling “exhausted.” It is very common for clients to go in for their workouts on an empty stomach causing them to “bonk” (run out of energy, get dizzy and nauseous) part way through the workout. Typically, clients claim that their strength lessens and more importantly they begin to lose focus and drive. This all comes down to proper fueling before your workout.
On average, most everyday exercisers participating in a one-hour or less moderate activity will have enough fuel, but as the intensity and duration of your workout increases, so does the importance of fueling up first. If a person is looking to fuel up before a workout, they should consume about 30 grams of carbohydrates and 15-25 grams of protein. The best options for this are quick digesting carbs with low fat and low fiber as the fiber can slow the absorption down.
However, keep in mind that most experts, including myself, believe that there is a correlation between intensity, proper fueling and performance. The higher the intensity, the faster your carbohydrate fuel tank empties, and that can have an impact on how hard and well you train.
Timing also does play an important factor in considering what to eat and in what combination. If you are fueling about 2 hours before the workout, you should consume a sort of ‘mini-meal’ (half sandwich or cup of yogurt with fruit) or a full meal (lunch) if eating about 3 hours before the workout. You should also consider using the proper combination of foods for a post exercise meal to aid in recovery and replenish nutrients that have been used.
So, what are some of the best options to consume for a pre-or post-exercise meal? Below are a few items that I use consistently because of their ease and their overall health effect in regards to exercise. Ultimately, you should experiment with different combinations to see what works best.
Milk is one of the best options as a liquid to help with both pre-and post-exercise fueling. Not only does milk have protein and carbohydrates, both needed for proper fueling, it also contains branched chain amino acids. Branched chain amino acids, or BCAA, refers to valine, isoleucine and leucine, amino acids that are essential for post exercise recovery. These amino acids help with reduced lactic acid build up, reduce muscle mass loss, shortens recovery time and can help stimulate new muscle growth. Leucine in particular can be used by muscle tissue as “muscle energy” during the workout regimen. I like to use a2 Milk® because not only does it have the BCAA’s, but it is the only milk in the United States that does not have A1 beta casein protein, and studies suggest that drinking milk with only A2 type protein may help some people avoid discomfort.
Maca is a native Peruvian superfood root that grows in the Andes resembling a small rough stone the size of a walnut. Maca has a positive effect on energy and mood as studies have shown that it can support continued exercise because it increases glucose in the blood stream (1). While rich in amino acids, phytonutrients and a variety of vitamins and minerals, maca functions as an adaptogen (1,2,3), thus aiding in adrenal function to increase energy, reduce stress, and create an overall revitalizing effect. I usually take maca in my pre-exercise shake.
I consider bananas as a quick digesting carbohydrate, 30 grams per a medium-sized banana, this is perfect for an immediate, rapid boost in energy that your body needs. In addition, a medium banana has 422 mg of potassium, a chemical element that is absolutely necessary for cellular function. Typically, potassium is lost during exercise, so a banana is the perfect pre-workout snack: It provides carbohydrates you need for energy, which is key in any workout, along with the potassium you will be losing as you sweat.
Cacao is a wonderful Peruvian superfood that has been used for years in many different foods. But aside from it’s delicious applications, it is really important when it comes to nutrition. The antioxidant capacity of cacao is higher than that of black tea, green tea, and red wine, so it has the antioxidant power equivalent to that of vitamin C. It can help fight against free radicals which are produced during exercise and therefore a faster recovery.
Below, I am providing the recipe that I recommend to all my clients for a pre-exercise workout shake using the ingredients listed above. Remember to drink the shake about 30-45 minutes before your workout.