Are you up for a quick test? There’s only 1 question and it’s multiple choice – you can handle it. Here goes. Pick the best scenario below:
A. It’s July 4th, you enjoyed a delicious BBQ about 2 hours ago, now it’s time to hit the gym for a hard workout to work off that huge burger and your neighbor’s wife’s famous cheesecake.
B. It’s 6:00 p.m. , you’re last meal was at noon, your starting to feel a little hungry but you know if you don’t get a workout in before you head home for dinner, it just won’t happen. You figure a good 45 minute workout will make dinner taste just that much better too.
C. It’s 5:00 a.m. which is too early for breakfast, but a little snack will give you the boost you need for that 5:30 a.m. run. You grab an apple and a mini snickers bar before you head out the door. A little fruit and sugar will get you going.
D. You’re only time to workout today is during your 12:00 lunch break. You opt to skip lunch, you’ll eat it at your desk later. Instead you have half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at 10:30 to tide you over till your late lunch.
I considered putting the answer upside down at the bottom of the page, but since it’s a major pain to turn a whole newspaper upside down, I figured I’d cut you some slack and just tell you the correct answer. The best scenario is D. Did you get it right? If you did – way to go! If not….I’m sorry about the major gastrointestinal distress you’ve been having during your workouts, and I’m probably going to blame that smell in the room on you.
What to eat and when to eat is often overlooked when it comes to your workout routine. The focus is typically on other body systems such as the musculoskeletal system or the cardio respiratory system. However, the digestive system plays a major roll when it comes to the quality of your workouts as well as your recovery time and progress. So I’m going to break it down for you. What should you eat before and after you exercise? When should you eat? And how much?
First, scenario #1 sounds ok, right? I mean you SHOULD work off that extra food. Yes, but 2 hours after a large meal is too soon to workout out, especially if it’s a high fat, high protein meal. It takes your body a long time to break down the protein in a burger and all the fat in that cheesecake. Plus what your body really needs before a workout is some simple carbohydrates. You should wait at least 3-4 hours after a large meal to workout. By that time the food will be out of your stomach, but you’ll still have enough energy to push yourself hard. Working out with a stomach full of food will make you sluggish and probably lead to some digestive problems, such as an upset stomach, gas, or a sudden and urgent need to find a restroom.
Scenario #2 isn’t the worst; however exercising 6 hours after your last meal when you’re already hungry will probably result in a poor workout. It’s hard to really push yourself when you’re hungry and tired. It would be better to have a little snack mid afternoon so that by 6:00 p.m. you don’t have to drag yourself through the motions of your workout.
The person in scenario #3 had great intentions, although I bet they felt sick about 20 minutes into their run. The problem isn’t WHEN they ate, but WHAT they ate. Apples are full of fiber which takes your body a long time to digest. You want to avoid eating anything with lots of fiber for about 4 hours or more before a workout. Unless you enjoy chewing Tums, and looking for port potties along your running route. The snickers bar is bad idea as well. Yes, it gives you a nice little sugar rush to get you going but then comes the crash. Eating a lot of sugar before a workout can actually lead to feeling horrible and sluggish as soon as your body uses that sugar. It’s better to eat something that won’t lead to the rush and crash like cereal, or pretzels, or a low sugar granola bar.
The final scenario is spot on. It’s ok to push lunch back to workout as long as you’ve eaten a small snack to tide you over. It’s best to eat a small snack 1 ½ to 2 hours before you workout. The snack is also great. Your body needs simple, easily digestible carbohydrates before you workout. The bread and jelly would provide good carbohydrates and the peanut butter would give you a little protein which will stave off your hunger and give you some extra energy. Eating lunch right after you workout is perfect too.
There is a 30–60 minute window after you workout where your body uses the food you give it extra efficiently to refuel and recover from the strain you put it through. Eating a combination of carbohydrates and protein within 60 minutes after exercise will make your recovery 2 to 3 times faster than if you waited a few hours to eat. Also, if your body doesn’t get carbohydrates after you exercise it may actually break down your muscles for the fuel it needs to recover. That would end up being very self-sabotaging since the whole point in exercise is to build muscle. If you’re not sitting down to eat a meal right after you workout you should eat a small snack that provides your body with the carbs and protein it needs. The perfect ratio of carbohydrates to protein is 4:1. That means there are 4 grams of carbs for every 1 gram of protein. Here are some examples of great post-workout foods. 1 cup of chocolate milk is perfect. It has 25 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein. I do mean 1 CUP, not 1 glass. More than 8 oz. of chocolate milk and you’re sabotaging your workout in another way with excess calories. Toast with peanut butter would also be good choice, or a handful of crackers and one low-fat string cheese. Half a cup of Greek Yogurt with ¼ cup of granola would provide that 4 to 1 ratio as well. Are you starting to get how it works?
Your body also needs fluid before, during, and after you exercise. I recommend drinking 2–3 cups of water 2–3 hours before you exercise. If you plan on working out longer than 1 hour you need 1 cup of water every hour. If you are working out longer than 2 hours you should also drink something that provides your body with electrolytes, such as Gatorade or Propel. In order to know how to replenish your body with fluids after you exercise; weigh yourself before and after your workout. You need to drink 2 or 3 cups of fluid for every pound lost. That’s water you’ve lost, not actual weight.
So, lets fix our scenarios. #1 – Don’t pig out at the BBQ and wait 4 hours to workout. Consider saving ½ a piece of cheesecake for a post workout treat. #2 – Eat a handful of crackers and 2 oz. of cheese at 4:30, and then make sure your dinner after you workout is full of good carbs and a little protein. #3 – Skip the apple and Snickers and instead eat 1 cup of cereal with skim milk. Consider a few sips of coffee if you need a little wake-up.
If you failed the test, don’t worry you’ll be retested before and after your next workout. I expect to you to pass with flying colors! If there isn’t a “next workout”, I’m afraid you’ll end up having to take a different test; one that might not be as easy. It involves lots of complicated things like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. If I were you I’d avoid those tests at all costs. So eat the right foods at the right time and then get out there and sweat!
* an article from my column - THE AUDREY ROSS WAY - in the local newspaper - March 17th, 2011