With new fitness routines established from New Year’s resolutions, it is important to ensure that adaptations in nutrition are made to sustain performance. This month, I’m answering the most commonly asked questions pertaining to performance nutrition.
Should I eat before working out?
It is important to fuel our bodies prior to exercising, ideally eating within 1-4 hours leading up to the exercise. For those that are early morning exercisers, this is especially important to consider since the last time your body was fueled was likely 8 or more hours before hand. Overnight, our body is relying on the food we consumed at dinner to keep our body functioning, so when we wake up, our energy stores are low. These energy stores that are being used overnight are the storage form of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, despite their terrible publicity, are essential for life and to fuel our exercise routines.
Some of the bad press associated with carbohydrates is that it provides us with “quick energy.” This same reason why many people are fearful of carbs is why they are beneficial for exercise - the quick breakdown allows us to to have energy readily available to continue on with exercise. Research suggests that those that consume a diet lower in carbohydrates actually may experience lactic acid production (aka that “burning” sensation) earlier in exercise, which tends to prohibit individuals from lasting longer.
Because of the benefits of carbohydrates, it is recommended to consume carbs before exercising. It’s a common misconception that protein is needed prior to exercise; however, consuming protein or dietary fats beforehand does not lend to improved outcomes; rather, consumption of these two macronutrients can create gastrointestinal distress during movement.
Short answer: Yes! Especially carbs!
What is the best timing to eat after exercising?
Exercise depletes the body of energy, so we want to ensure that we are refueling properly. Replenishing the body of carbohydrates and protein thirty minutes to an hour after exercise is associated with the most benefits in muscle recovery. This is not to say that waiting to eat past the hour post-exercise mark is “bad;” however, it is not as optimal for our body.
Short answer: Carbs and protein within 30 minutes to an hour after exercise.
How many grams of protein should I be consuming per day?
Frankly speaking, some of the growing trends on social media providing advice of protein needs is frightening. Not only are some of the recommendations near impossible to meet, but they fail to provide an individual approach; meaning, they do not consider an individual’s medical history, physical activity, or personal goals. Further, the majority of protein recommendations are far too high, which can cause an array of health consequences. A good rule of thumb for generalized protein recommendations includes making a quarter of your plate at mealtime a source of protein. For more personalized information, consult a qualified health professional.
Short answer: Protein recommendations should be personalized and most individuals are likely meeting protein needs with their existing diet.
What supplements should I be taking to improve my performance?
It seems like every so often a new supplement garners the attention and affection of the population. Supplements can be beneficial; however, it is also based on an individual. Some factors that dietitians consider before recommending supplements includes: an individual’s overall diet, lab work, medication, and other regularly consumed supplements and herbs. Instead of relying on a friend or celebrity for supplement advice, remind yourself that your individual needs and lifestyle is not the exact same, and what is best for one person, may not be best for you.
Short answer: Be weary of attractive marketing for supplements, they may not always be necessary.
Nutrition can enhance your fitness routine, and maintaining the mindset that nutrition is a personalized science and food is fuel can help ensure that you are making the most of your next workout!
Dr. Kelsey “Cece” Reeder, DCN, RD is a clinical and private practice registered dietitian in Fairfield County. Dr. Cece is now accepting new patients! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for any inquiries.