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Choosing the Right Foods to Fuel Your Workout

No matter your fitness goals–whether to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, or to boost your bone strength–getting regular exercise comes along with a whole host of health benefits. But to really get the most out of your workouts and optimize your body’s performance and overall health, make sure you’re pairing your exercise routine with a balanced diet that’s custom-tailored to your needs.

Are You an Early Riser or a Night Owl?

Before we get into which foods to eat, let’s talk about when to eat them. By planning the timing of your meals around your exercise schedule, you can help your body to effectively prepare for, and replenish itself after, exercise.

  • The early riser. If you’re a morning person and tend to lace up your running shoes first thing in the morning, you may want to postpone that big breakfast. The evidence behind this is somewhat divided, but both have a similar idea. On one hand, exercising on an empty stomach may help your body burn more stored fat energy, rather than just your recent breakfast, which could aid in your weight loss goals.

On the other hand, eating something light before your morning workout could give your body the quick fuel it needs to work harder and faster.

So what’s the right answer? Truthfully, there isn’t one. Find what works best for you. But if you are going to eat before you exercise in the morning, think of it less as a breakfast and more as a snack. A glass of skim milk, raw almonds, or a handful of whole grain cereal could be great options.

  • The midday motivator. We can’t all be early birds, right? For some, that sweet spot after lunch is when the motivation to move kicks in, which means that your lunch should be packed with protein and a healthy sugar to keep your blood sugar levels from dipping. The probiotics in yogurt have been shown to boost brain activity and help you avoid that midday crash, making it a doubly good protein choice. Peanut butter or almond butter and hard-boiled eggs are excellent sources of lunchtime protein, too (Gastroenterology).
  • The night owl. For all those night owls out there, you might be missing a secret ingredient when it comes to your evening workout. The pectin fiber abundant in apples slows sugar absorption into the bloodstream, allowing you to kickstart your night time workout without experiencing energy peaks and crashes (Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice). Pair an apple with low-fat cheese, a glass of milk, or another source of lean protein for the perfect evening energy boost.

The Best Foods to Eat after Your Workout

Equally important as choosing the right foods to fuel your body before your workout is choosing wisely after you exercise. After all, you don’t want to deplete your body of vital minerals, vitamins, and nutrients without replenishing them afterwards.

Here are some nutrient-packed superfoods to include in your post-workout meal plan:

  • Eggs. Eggs are jam-packed with protein, which helps your body to repair muscle tissue and stay healthy. As an added bonus, eggs are one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D, which is essential for proper calcium absorption for strong, healthy bones (Journal of Nutrition).
  • Bananas. Another excellent source of potassium, bananas help your body to rehydrate and repair muscle, while also providing fast-acting “good” carbs that help to replenish your body’s glycogen levels.
  • Salmon. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties, thus helping you to rebuild muscle and stave off exercise-related aches and pains.
  • Sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes don’t seem to get as much attention as they really should. They’ve got a little bit of everything–a healthy dose of carbs, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B6, C, and D, making them a well-rounded post-exercise superfood.

The Bottom Line

Remember that finding the right workout routine for you is half the battle. Once you’ve got that down, make sure you’re fueling your body with foods to keep it running smoothly and efficiently. Oh, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water!If you’re interested in more ways to help optimize your workouts and meal plans, consider signing up for the Women’s Health Conversations 2016 Conference to be held in Pittsburgh, PA. This conference really has something for everyone, and the aim is to have fun while learning about and discussing women’s health concerns. Take a look at the registration page for more information about how to become a part of this global effort to educate, entertain, and empower women.

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