Fuel for Thought

Hope everyone had a great Labor Day! Now that we’re on this side of September, the 10k that I signed up for seems to be looming closer than ever. I signed up for this race at the beginning of the summer, and I can’t believe it’s only 3 weeks away. But, through my training – going on runs about 3 times a week using this app and by joining class pass (a ticket to a lot of boutique fitness classes throughout NYC), I have found myself in quite the dilemma: how do I fit eating into my new busy and active lifestyle. Even more pressing: what do I even eat?

Yes, I get that as a dietitian, answering the question, “What do I eat?” should be a no-brainer in any and all situations, especially when it comes to what I personally put into my mouth. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret; sports nutrition is NOT my forte. I don’t find it that interesting, and I’ve never really had any desire to take an elective about Sports Nutrition in my masters classes. I just didn’t really care….before this summer. No one’s perfect, and we all don’t know everything!

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but here are the main things that I found to be the most helpful…

1) Eating before a workout

  • Try not to eat a large meal less than 3-4 hours before exercising.
  • If you’re going to eat a snack, eat 1-2 hours before, and pick one that’s made of complex carbohydrates and some protein. Try to avoid too much fat and fiber, as they slow down digestion and take a lot more effort to digest. This can divert energy away from your muscles (where you need it). Additionally, complex carbohydrates are released much more slowly into the blood stream than simple carbohydrates and can supply energy throughout a longer workout, while the protein will prevent hunger and help supply muscles with energy.
  • My pre-workout snacks aren’t fancy and often include: apple with peanut butter, whole wheat slice of toast with peanut butter, bananas and peanut butter, (I think I like peanut butter),  greek yogurt with fruit, cheese stick, a handful of nuts and a slice of cheese, etc.
  • Experiment, because everyone is different. For instance, I know that if I eat less than 1.5 hours before working out or going for a run, well, it’s not pretty and I’ll leave it at that.
  • That being said, if I run or exercise first thing in the morning, I’m not going to wake up early enough to eat a light snack and let it digest. I make sure to drink a lot of water the night before so I don’t wake up dehydrated and will keep it super simple with a few whole grain crackers or a piece of toast and head out the door, and I make sure to eat a good recovery breakfast when I get back, which leads me to….

2) Congrats, you survived (of course you did!). Now how to recover?

  • If you’ve just come back from a rigorous workout, your body is likely to be depleted of some glucose stores that were used for energy, and if you sweat you’re most likely in need of some electrolytes.
  • If you’re not planning on eating a full meal within an hour after you exercise, have a snack that’s similar to your pre-workout snack that has complex carbohydrates and protein (for muscle repair). Since you’re no longer going to be running around/jostling the remains in your stomach, feel free to get a little more creative (i.e. stray from the peanut butter if you’re me), and try a glass of chocolate milk; some hardboiled eggs and avocado on toast; or some quick brown rice, beans, and salsa.
  • If you’re going to eat a meal rather than a snack, aim for a balanced plate consisting of protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates. Grilled chicken, fish, lean steak, pork, lentils, beans, tofu, cottage cheese, and eggs are all excellent sources of protein. Mix these up with your favorite sauce, a little bit of butter, or oil with different colorful veggies like peppers, onions, broccoli, spinach, onions, and carrots.

And lastly, the most important thing to remember is to HYDRATE. If you’re feeling any sort of wooziness, dizziness, nausea, or headaches during or after your workout, chances are you’re dehydrated. Remember to take a water bottle with you on your run or be sure that there are water fountains on your route, and bring a water bottle to your workout class. When you’re done, KEEP DRINKING. If you’re exercising for greater than 60 minutes, you may want to try a sports drink or other beverage with electrolytes, like coconut water, to replete what you’ve lost in your sweat.

When you commit to exercise, you really don’t need to get fancy with expensive protein drinks or designer snacks. You also don’t have to overthink your sports nutrition needs! Really, have fun with it. To end this, here’s a picture of me chowing down on Umami burger after a fast-paced 5 mile run last weekend (and shamelessly Instagramming it, no less), and I enjoyed it even more knowing that it was providing my body with the protein and carbs that it so desperately needed (also it just happened to be situated at the finish line and it looked DELICIOUS).

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