Food & Workouts: Not Mutally Exclusive Anymore. Sort Of.

Dude, you're gonna need a bigger breakfast.
Photo: Sorgatron

So you’re working out to get fit and you’re so into this new goal you’ve set for yourself that maybe you’re not eating enough to have it work right. What?! You’ve always thought that calories out had to exceed calories in for this fitness thing to work. True enough. Eating is an important part of fitness and there are some foods that actually compliment your workout routines. You still need fuel in your machine to make it go.

Avoid working out on an empty stomach. This can result in low blood sugar which can make you feel weak and lightheaded. You don’t want to be wobbling all around the gym, bumping into walls and having people mistake you for Amy Winestein.

About an hour before you begin your workout, you should have a small snack primarily composed of carbs with about 100 to 200 calories; something like half a banana, grapes or toast with jam. Or you could work out within 2 hours of a light meal. Avoid working out on a full stomach (3-4 hours prior to your workout) or you could have problems with nausea and cramps as the blood flow is focused on digestion rather than supplying energy to your muscles. You should also drink 8 – 16 ounces of water within an hour of working out to avoid dehydration. A good rule of thumb is to drink 6 to 8 ounces of water for every 15 minutes of exercise. If you’re at it for longer than an hour, try a sports drink like Gatorade. Chances are you’ll have enough fuel to finish your workout (generally less than an hour) but if not, try having half an energy bar for a quick high-carb snack.

Post workout eating should include a protein snack or light meal for muscle repair and recovery within 2 hours of exercising. Some suggestions for after workout snacks are low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit, apple slices with peanut butter or half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread. A light meal should contain protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. And again, take care to rehydrate yourself within an hour.

But beware! According to this article, there’s a little something called “compensation” that can occur after workouts. It’s a little “post-workout binge” where people tend to bribe or reward themselves for working out more than they normally would have. While it’s true that exercise can induce hunger, it’s often temporary and doesn’t affect everyone. If you’ve done a little extra time on the elliptical and on your way home you stop at your usual coffee shop but get a chocolate donut burrito versus your typical medium black coffee, you just may be a compensator.

Why, yes, I DID just finish my workout. Why do you ask?
Photo: ultrakickgirl

Compensation can be triggered by intense workouts or it may be as simply explained as people overestimating the amount of calories they burned during a workout. We’ve all got the wiring that tells us hard work deserves some reward. The good news is that even if you do compensate, you’re still reaping some health benefits – although you’re not losing the weight as quickly as you could, your cardiovascular system is working better and your waist circumference is a bit smaller. I frankly would need Magellan and his boys to circumnavigate my waist, but that’s a post for another time. It was found that this desire to have éclair lasagna for dinner eventually goes away on its own. But if it doesn’t, you can take some of the following steps to break the pattern: track your caloric intake AND the amount of calories burned from exercise, find another way to reward yourself or workout with a friend who will help hold you accountable.

So how do you all “eat your way to fitness” when working out? And do you find that you “compensate” after working out?

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