When you start exercising regularly, you might have to revamp some of your everyday eating habits in order to feel your best while you’re working out and avoid unwanted bathroom stops. Here are some general rules.
1. Go on empty (sometimes). What you eat before you hit the road or the gym all depends on when you’re exercising and what kind of workout you’re planning. Many people don’t have the time—or the stomach—to eat and digest food before a workout, especially if that workout is taking place in the early morning. For an easy workout of one hour or less, going without food or drink probably won’t do you any harm. (Just make sure you’re staying hydrated.) But for any event that’s longer or more intense, preworkout fuel is critical. Go out on empty and you’ll fatigue sooner, plus you’ll have a much tougher time meeting your goals.
2. Keep it simple. So what’s the perfect preworkout meal? Familiar foods that are easy on your system, low in fat and fiber, and high in carbs will boost your energy without upsetting your stomach.
3. Time it right. When it comes to fueling your workout, timing is everything. Before your workout, you’ll want to have something that will give you a boost of energy without leaving you with an upset stomach on the road. So focus on carbs, and foods that are low in fiber and low in fat. You can find lots of prerun meal and snack ideas here. In general, the bigger the meal the more time you’ll need to digest. Each person is different, but you’ll want to eat at least 30 minutes before you head out so you don’t have GI distress when you’re on the road. Within 20 minutes of finishing your workout, have a protein-rich snack to repair muscle tissue, and carbohydrates to restock your spent energy stores. This will kick start the recovery process so that you can bounce back quickly for your next workout. Learn more about postrun fuel for recovery.
4. Drink up. Hydration is important, and not just when you’re exercising. Fluids regulate body temperature, move waste from your body, ensure that your joints are adequately lubricated, and help flush out the damaged cells that can lead to inflammation. And proper hydration can help control cravings, which is important because it’s often easy to mistake thirst for hunger. While there’s no set recommendation for daily fluid intake, a good rule of thumb is to aim to drink about half of your body weight in ounces each day. (So if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water.) And you don’t have to just guzzle water. Fruits and vegetables can also help you stay hydrated. Plus they’re packed with antioxidants, which boost muscle recovery and immunity.
5. Get the balance right. Even if you’re not exercising with a goal of losing weight, you still need the right mix of foods and nutrients to feel energized on your runs and to stay injury-free. About 55 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, 25 percent should come from protein, and another 15 to 20 percent should come from unsaturated fats. But there’s no need to start carrying around a calculator. Don’t obsess. At each meal, just simply devote half of your plate to carbs, one-quarter of your plate to protein, and another quarter to healthy fats.
6. Take out the trash. If you have a family to feed, it may feel like you’re constantly surrounded by diet-dooming foods. Your kids and partner may not be trying to get in shape, but eating more fruits and vegetables, and less junk, is good for them, too. So next time you’re at the store, shop with a “clean kitchen” in mind. Limit the high-sugar, high-fat foods you toss in your cart; if they’re not in the house, you won’t be tempted to eat them. Stock your fridge with fruits, veggies, and whole grains, so they’ll be there when mealtime rolls around. Those foods will keep you feeling good when you’re working out, plus they’ll keep your heart healthy, your cholesterol low, and your blood sugar stable.