How to Eat for Exercise and Recovery


Like most of us, we turn to cardio-centric exercises like running for their ability to torch fat, and burn calories at an excelerated pace. However, the fitter we become, the more efficient our body becomes, and the fewer calories our body burns when exercising at the same distance/speed. So what is the best way to fuel your body so that you constantly see the gains (or losses) you want, while keeping yourself energized and ready to perform? It all comes down to balance, discipline, and knowing how to fuel yourself.

Coping Mechanisms

First things first – you need to understand where you are, what you want to achieve, and then form the plan to get there.

  1. Change how you view food: If you only focus on your weight, it will create a negative association with food. If you're trying to eat to fuel and recover from the sports you do, you'll lose weight as a side effect.
  2. Maintain a food journal: Write down everything you consume for at least three to seven days. Be honest with yourself... The only person you will be lying to is you. See: Food Journal Mistakes You Might Be Making
  3. Set achievable goals: Like the 10% rule when increasing your exercise, safe weight loss is around one to two pounds per week. Anything more and you're probably losing muscle.
  4. Create energy balance: When eating for weight loss, recovery, or fueling your body, the biggest thing is consistency. Eat smaller amounts, every two to three hours. This is because your body can only turn so much food into energy at once. Visit Choose My Plate to see what a balanced meal plan looks like.

How Much Protein Should I Eat?

Ah, how many times have you asked or heard somebody ask this... and how many times has the answer been 'it depends'. Well, it does. It depends on your age, weight, and how active you are. The reccomended allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per KG, or 0.38 G per pound. This is around 65 g per day for an average 180-lb adult. If you consider yourself an athlete, this all changes! Athletes or active people need more protein than the average person to help fuel their body for the tasks they expect of them. This increases from the average 0.8 g to:

  • Men: Elite 1.6 g, moderate 1.2 g, recreational 1g
  • Women: Elite 1.36 g, moderate 1.02 g, recreational 0.9 g

So what is the best way to get your protein? There are quite a few ways, and to be honest, we think they are delicious! Here is a quick protein guide on what to look for:

  • Milk and Dairy: have the added benefit of calcium
  • Meat: provides iron and zinc but can be high in saturated fat so choose lean
  • Fish and Seafood: good sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats
  • Legumes: rich in fiber
  • Nuts: fiber, healthy fats, and other various protective compounds

Does it matter when you get your protein? YES. Protein doesn't store for later, it's used right away. Most of us aren't eating enough in the morning, yet eating more than we need at night. Get boost you need at breakfast here.

How Do I Know If I'm Deficient In Iron?

Iron is essential. Every cell in your body needs iron to function, that's because iron is part of the hemoglobin in blood and myoglobin in muscles, helping deliver the oxygen your body needs... Understandably, you can see why athletes would be concerned about their iron levels. So how can you tell if you're iron deficient?

The first step if you think you have an iron deficiency is to go see your doctor. They will do a blog test to look at your complete blood count (CBC), your estimated stored iron, and other possible tests. So how much iron do I need?

  • Females 14-18 yrs: 15 mg
  • Females 19-50 yrs: 18 mg
  • Females 51+ yrs: 8 mg
  • Males 14-18 yrs: 11 mg
  • Males 19+ yrs: 8 mg

If you're a vegetarian or a vegan, please try to consume up to 1.8x more iron than stated above! For a fantastic breakdown on foods loaded with iron, click here.

Carbs Carbs Carbs!

A lot has been said about carbs... Yes, a low-carb diet can help you lose weight. However, if you're training for a run, or any other sort of athletic event, a low-carb diet can actually be a very bad idea. The reduction of carbs within your diet can actually lead to the following problems:

  • Sluggish metabolism
  • Lower levels of muscle/strength-building hormones
  • higher levels of stress hormones

Those three amigos will result in you feeling cranky, tired, weak, or even sick... Oh, and if you do it for too long, your weight loss will most definitely stall. We've all heard the old saying 'everything in moderation', well what we're really saying is EAT YOUR WHEAT! So how much should someone eat? It depends on your activity level:

  • Low-intensity or skill-based activities: 3-5 g per kg BM
  • Moderate exercise program (1/hour per day): 5-7 g per kg BM
  • Endurance program (Moderate to high intensity exercise 1-3 hours per day) 6-10 g per kg BM
  • Extreme commitment (4-5 hours per day!!) 8-12 g per kg BM

That's all well and true, but when it's all said and done, how do you even go about putting that into action? Well here is our carb fueling strategy:

  • Preparing for an event < 90 mins of exercise: 7-12 g/kg per 24 hours for daily fuel needs
  • Prepping for an event > 90 mins of sustained exercise: 36-48 hours of 10-12 g/kg per 24 hours
  • Pre-event fueling > 60 mins before exercise: 1-4 g/kg consumed 1-4 hours pre-competition
  • Speedy refueling < 8 hours after event: 1-1.2 g/kg every hour for first 4 hours 

Hydration and Electrolytes

It's no secret that you're going to lose fluid and electrolytes during a strenuous workout. This leads to fatigue, lose of muscle strength, concentration, determination, coordination etc. There's a reason why they put water and sports drink stations out during a race. Sports drinks provide the carbohydrates and electrolytes lost in sweat. This mixture of carbs and fluids that can be easily absorbed through the small intestine. If you're just out and about, water will do you just fine, however, if you're in the middle of a race, a sports drink may be just the ticket to #KeepGoing.

Eating Before a Workout

This is a tricky one, as every body, every metababolism, from person to person – every nutritional need is different. Finding the right balance of protein to carbs for you takes practice, but it's definitely worth finding a plan that works for you. Here are a few tips:

  • What to eat: carb-rich food or beverages. They digest well and quickly so you won't have as much in you while exercising. They are also your main stored source of energy in your muscles and bloodstream.
  • What NOT to eat: heavy proteins and fatty foods (meats, greasy foods, cheese, spicy foods, and high fiber foods). They take longer to digest. For the sake of your workout partner, it's best to avoid gassy foods like beans... For obvious reasons.

Timing is also very important. Here's a few pointers:

  • 3-4 hours before training: eat your last big meal favouring carbs, protein, and fat.
  • 2 hours before training: eat a carb-rich snack or beverage
  • 60 minutes: sports drink, water, and a very light snack.

At the end of the day it's trial and error. Do what's right for you, and what gives you the best boost to your energy level. Have fun!

Eating After a Workout: The 3 R's

Sports scientists have aimed to make this as simple as possible. So let's lay it out into the 3 R's (get a complete breakdown here):

  1. Refuel: Carb-rich foods will help replace your glycogen stores for your next training session. This is particularly important if you are doing back-to-back workouts.
  2. Rehydrate: Replace sweat loss to ensure that you start your next training session fully hydrated. Water and snacks are fine. However, juice (mostly carbs) and chocolate milk (carbs + protein), allow you to get the carbs you need while you re hydrate. YES, WE JUST SAID DRINK CHOCOLATE MILK!
  3. Rebuild: Repairing muscle tissue is an important part of recovery. Although not as crusial to your next training session as carbs or fluids, protein will help long-term growth. We reccomend eating 20g of protein within 30 minutes of exercise (about 500 ml of milk)

 


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