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Knowing what to eat before and after a workout is key when doing an intense or long (an hour or more) session. A pre-exercise snack can give you energy, and eating after exercise is important because that is when cells are primed to absorb carbs and protein, says Christy Alexon, a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
You might need to experiment with foods and timing to find what is best for you, but here are some basics.
If you ate lunch at 1 p.m. and plan to work out at 2 or 3 p.m., you don’t need to eat anything else. But if it has been more than a couple of hours since you had a meal, have a small snack about an hour before exercise, Alexon says. Aim for 20 to 30 grams of carbs and 5 to 10 grams of protein, she says: “Avoid anything high-fat or high in fiber, as that will take longer to digest.” A banana with peanut butter, a hard-boiled egg with toast, or a granola bar and string cheese would work.
Muscles burn glucose for energy. Long or intense workouts can deplete your stores, and you may start using muscle for fuel. To help prevent muscle loss, eat within 45 minutes after cardio, preferably sooner, Alexon says. After strength training, eat within 40 minutes to support better muscle recovery and building. In either case, have something with a 2:1 carb-to-protein ratio, such as a tuna sandwich on whole-grain bread plus a small piece of fruit.
Be sure you’re drinking enough fluid before, during and after workouts to stay hydrated. According to the American Council on Exercise, a person can lose a quart of water or more exercising for an hour, depending on the workout intensity and air temperature. It recommends drinking 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours before a workout, and 7 to 10 ounces for every 10 to 20 minutes of exercise.
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