by Hillary Rinehardt

Nutrition is a key factor when it comes to maximizing athletic performance, results, and recovery. What you eat before, during and after a workout can affect whether or not you will have the energy to achieve your greatest potential during each session.

Pre-Workout Meal

The goal of your pre-workout meal is to provide your body with energy but without stomach upset. What and when to eat before your workout will depend on the type, intensity and duration of the exercise you plan to do. Carbs will maximize your body’s ability to use glycogen and are therefore good to fuel short/high intensity sessions, whereas fat will help fuel your body for longer sessions. Protein, made up of amino acids, will improve muscle protein synthesis, promote quick recovery and fight off hunger cravings.

Ideally, it is best to eat a complete meal containing carbs, protein and fat two to three hours before your workout. However, sometimes that is just not possible, especially if you are starting early in the morning or right after work. For most people, the perfect time for a pre-workout snack or meal is one to two hours beforehand. The closer it is to workout time, the smaller the meal should be, and the easier to digest—mainly carbs and some protein. If you can only eat five to ten minutes before your workout, just have an apple or a banana.

Good hydration is critical. Dehydration will decrease performance, while good hydration will sustain or even enhance performance. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends drinking 16-20 ounces of water at least four hours prior to your workout, and an additional 8-12 ounces 10 to 15 minutes prior to your workout.

Some pre-workout meal ideas good for burning fat and building muscles are:

» Egg whites, almond butter, or avocado on whole grain bread

» Oatmeal with low fat or almond milk

» Tuna with brown rice

» Grilled chicken with sweet potatoes

» Low fat or fat free yogurt with fruit

Keep in mind, almond butter and avocados contain fat, which can slow down your body’s uptake of nutrients. Fat should be eaten only if you intend to workout intensely for longer than 90 minutes.

During Your Workout

Whether you’re an endurance athlete who trains for several hours or you have a low intensity routine, small, frequent sips of water will keep you hydrated during your workout.

Eating during your workout only makes sense if you are exercising for more than 90 minutes. Eating mid-workout is inconvenient and could make you feel sick if you are working out intensely. Proper preworkout nutrition can provide you with everything your body needs for most workouts unless you are an endurance athlete. For longer, more vigorous workouts, 50 to 100 calories every half hour such as banana, raisins or low-fat yogurt may be helpful. Some people prefer to sip on a protein shake or drink amino acids. Much will depend on personal preference and what your stomach can handle.

Post-Workout Nutrition

Post-workout nutrition is essential for the best results. What and when you eat after training will not only affect your performance during your next workout but will also affect how sore you will be from the workout you just finished. The most important reason to eat after you work out is to help build muscle. If you skip this meal over time, you will lose muscle mass.

As opposed to pre-workout nutrition when complex carbohydrates are preferred, your carbs after training should be simple and easy to digest. The best choices immediately after the gym are fast-digesting proteins and faster-digesting, moderate-tohigh-glycemic carbs. Fats should be largely avoided just as they were during the pre-workout meal.

Many people like to drink a protein shake or smoothie immediately after their workout. These shakes should have carbs and protein. Even if you drink a shake, your body needs the fiber and vitamins from an actual meal. Ideally, time your post workout meal within the first 30 minutes after you’ve finished working out or at least within one to two hours after you finish. Ideas of what to eat after your workout include:

» Grilled chicken breast with baked sweet potato

» Salmon with brown rice

» Greek yogurt with berries

» String cheese and an apple

» Mixed green salad with shrimp, salmon or chicken » Omelet with veggies and feta.