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The Best Before & After Workout Foods

Whether you’re a back-of-the-pack marathon runner, a competitive triathlete or a weekend warrior just trying to get a little healthier, what — and when — you eat can affect how you feel and how you perform. Follow these pre- and post-workout noshing tips to make the most of your workout’s calorie-burning potential, and to help your body recuperate more quickly.

Drink up
Hydration is key to performing at your best. In its “Selecting and Effectively Using Hydration for Fitness” recommendations, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests downing 2 to 3 cups of water in the two to three hours prior to your workout and 1/2 to 1 cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. If it’s warmer (or you sweat more than the average person), drink a bit more. Unless you’re planning a 90-minute or longer workout, scrap the sports drinks and stick with plain water.

Time it right
Eating right before stepping onto your mat or treadmill can sap your energy, set off cramps or even send you running for the ladies’ room. But going too long without food can leave you without the stamina you need to ace the competition.

To feel fueled throughout your workout, follow the Mayo Clinic’s meal timing guidelines:

- Small (100- to 200-calorie) snacks should be consumed about 30 minutes to an hour before your workout
- If you plan to eat a small meal, it should be eaten two to three hours before a workout
- If you’ll be eating a larger meal, do so no less than three to four hours before exercising

Eat smart and simple

The ideal pre-workout meal or snack is low in fat, moderate in carbohydrates and protein, low in fiber and is made up of familiar foods. Some good choices include: hummus with whole grain crackers or raw carrots and celery, granola fruit kabobs, an avocado smoothie or oatmeal topped with fruit.

Within 30 minutes to an hour of finishing your workout, eat a small amount of protein and a whole grain. Meals like English Muffin Breakfast Pizzas, Healthified Chicken Pineapple Stir-Fry or Healthified Chicken and Black Bean Burritos help refuel energy stores, and build and repair your soon-to-be stronger muscles. Not able to squeeze in a meal that soon? Try some low-fat chocolate milk, a hard-boiled egg or a fruit-and-nut bar like Larabar for great recovery benefits.

Just remember that how much and how often you eat depends on the duration and intensity of your workout. Tackling a triathlon burns more energy than a restorative yoga class, so make smart choices based on your personal calorie needs.

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Posted: 04/01/13 EDT | Updated: 04/01/13 EDT