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Using Snacks for the Best Workouts Ever

By Martha Michael

What to Eat before a Workout

Type and timing of food consumption seem to be the main factors in choosing an effective snack either before or after a workout. But recommendations about pre- and post-workout nutrition are not universal because there are differences in preferences and the way food affects each person.

Type of Food Intake

What gives one person enough energy to work out may make someone else feel weighed down, says an article on Health.com. Even a pre-workout milkshake can have a positive effect on your fitness, says Julie Duffy Dillon, RD, a nutritionist who specializes in fitness. You need to figure out which foods work for you because personal experiences vary.

Use trial and error to determine the foods that bolster your fitness results, says registered dietician Jonah Soolman, who admits fueling his marathon workouts with Mountain Dew instead of Gatorade. “The first thing I say to patients when they come in with a sports and nutrition concern, whether it’s pre- or post-workout, is, ‘It always has to be individualized,’” he says. “There are certainly principles that apply to virtually everybody -- say, for example, carbs before a workout, but some things will vary.”

Carbohydrates

There are certainly a number of diet plans eschewing carbohydrate intake. Many Americans cut out carbs to shrink their waistlines, but when it comes to fitness, nothing beats bread and pasta for quick fuel. Paleo or keto diets can make you feel more sluggish because you don’t get the quick energy that carbs provide.

Don’t feel limited to the stereotypical carb sources, like fruit or a sports drink -- a bagel or peanut butter are both healthy and well-rounded sources of macronutrients.

An article in Men's Health says that despite the fact that carbohydrates are often demonized, they are actually healthy and important for your overall wellness. Fruit, legumes, and varieties of potatoes are nutritious sources of carbs. Fiber, starch, and sugar are all different sources of glucose, which is converted by your body for energy.

Protein

Protein is crucial for maintaining and building muscle, and helps keep you full, according to an article on the Mayo Clinic website. And it is most effective when your source of protein comes from whole foods rather than protein bars, shakes or supplements.

For a well-balanced diet, you want to pair carbohydrates with some protein so you have a filling snack that keeps you satiated while the carbs give you energy.

When you exercise, you deplete the glycogen stored in your muscles, and replenishing the carbohydrates you used for energy during your workout is important. After working out, it’s best to have a snack with both protein and carbs, such as tuna on a wrap, Greek yogurt with fruit, or string cheese and an apple.

Timing

There are various opinions about proper timing to maximize the nutrition you receive from your pre- and post-workout snacks, says an article in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. It’s not a hard science. Research is ongoing to determine which parts of the anabolic window -- before and after exercise -- are the best time frames for food intake.

Some experts say the ideal combination is eating something with both carbohydrates and protein within two hours after a rigorous workout. However, there doesn’t seem to be specific evidence tying the anabolic window to protein synthesis. There’s a belief that, for muscle development, there’s an ideal time to eat after working out. If you wait more than two hours after working out to consume carbohydrates, it may reduce your muscle repair by almost 50 percent.

Any way you slice it, your food intake matters when you’re a fan of fitness. The key is to personalize it by watching which type of food serves you best and when it’s appropriate to snack.

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