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Optimize Your Diet For An Effective Workout

Written: 10/25/2007

For many people the consequences of bad nutrition are numberous: lack of energy, a longer convalescent period, dizziness, high risks of illness, anemia, tendency to get fatigue easily, etc.

You can enjoy physical activities more and prevent the consequences of poor nutrition if you better adapt to your energy needs. Energy needs for any physical activity depend on a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat intake.

  • Rule 1: Focus first on the carbs
    Carbs are either complex or easy to digest. The complex carbs constitute the primary source of energy for humans. Without these complex carbs we wouldn't have been able to go far. As they are absorbed slowly into our system, they provide us with energy over a long period of time. This is contrary to the rapid carbs which can be easily metabolized to give us energy for a short period.

    30 to 60 minutes before a workout, privilege the consumption of rapidly-metabolized carbs like cereal bars or certain fruit juices. These carbs will provide you with instant energy for the duration of your exercise. However if these same foods are consumed 2 or 3 hours before your workout, they would have already been metabolized thus decreasing the sugar level in your blood (glycemia index).

    The day before and the day during your physical activity, you must get your daily calorie intake from foods with a high level of complex carbs.

    Best sources of complex carbs: Brown rice, pasta, whole-meal bread, cereals, beans and lentils.

  • Rule 2: Consume sufficient "lean" proteins
    Proteins are also an important part of your diet. Proteins promote the stability of energy distribution in your body. They also contribute to the build-up and repair of fragmented tissues and muscular fibers in your body. Many foods which contain proteins also contain fats. You must avoid these kind of foods.

    Best sources of "lean" proteins: skinned meat, fish, lean meat, eggs, fat-free cheese, fat-free yogurt, skimmed milk, tofu and soya milk.

  • Rule 3: Limit the fat
    Be it good or bad fat, it is better to limit the intake of fat before and after a workout. Avoiding them altogether is even better! Fats take a long time to digest - refer to the Calorie article for further details on the process. A very consuming digestive process coupled with an intense workout is the best recipe for acute abdominal pains (stomach ache). It is for the same reason that you must avoid spicy foods before a workout. However, a few hours after your exercises, you can consume good fats like olive oil, nuts and beans.

  • Rule 4: Drink a lot of water
    It is never enough to stress the importance of drinking water and even more when you are exercising. Two hours before the workout, it is essential to drink about 400 ml to 600 ml of water. This is the equivalent of two to three large glasses. Avoid drinks like coffee, soda, and some energy drinks because they hydrate your body very little.
So to put this into action:
  • Before the Exercise
    Two to four hours before the activity: a sustainable meal


    • Skinned milk, brown rice, green beans, skimmed milk, an apple, cereal bars, brown almonds

  • Eggs, cottage cheese, wholewheat bread, fruit salad

  • Pasta, Spaghetti sauce (half meat, half lentil), lettuces, a little homemade vinegar (containing olive oil), yogurt

  • wholewheat bread, homemade fruit juice, chicken salad, soya pudding

  • Vegetarian sandwich (bread, veggies, cheese), fruit, yoghurt

  • Fish, broccoli, soya milk

  • Water

  • NOT Recommended:
    • Cheese with lots of fat, meat with fats, bacon, sausage, chicken skin, butter, sauces, cream, cakes

  • Coffee, Soda

  • Energy drinks like Red Bull (because they have a high sugar and caffeine content.)

  • 30 to 60 minutes before the physical activity


    • Light yogurt with fruits

  • A small portion of rice

  • Cereal bars

  • Homemade fruit juice

  • Soya milk

  • Water

  • NOT Recommended:
    • Cheese with lots of fat, meat with fats, bacon, sausage, chicken skin, butter, sauces, cream, cakes

  • Coffee, Soda

  • Energy drinks like Red Bull (because they have a high sugar and caffeine content.)

  • Vegetables and cereals with a lot fiber content

  • Just before the activity
    Recommended: A drink made of homemade fruit juices and water (half-half).

    NOT Recommended: Eating!

  • During the Exercise
    Drink small quantities of water (150 ml to 350 ml) every 15 to 20 minutes. The body does not absorb more than 1 litre of water in an hour. Therefore it is important to drink regularly during an exercise, even when you do not feel thirsty.

    • Activity less than one hour:

      • Drink natural water.

    • Activity between 1 to 3 hours: Drink a fruit juice or a drink which contains sugar (not more than 8 g of glucides for 100 ml).

  • Activity of more than 3 hours: Take a drink which contains both sugar and some salt. Please note that a rehydrating drink which contains sodium and potassium (both are salts) is not that important if the activity is less than 3 hours unless there is excessive sweating during the efforts.

  • NOTE: Beware of Over-Hydrating! Too much drinking is unsafe for your health. Over-drinking, like more than 9.5 litres of water per day can lead to a condition known as hyponatremia (a decrease in the concentration of salt (sodium) in your body) which can lead to a brain damage, coma and even death. Over-drinking is more apt to occur to people who do marathons, triathlons and those who take part in activities which take a lot of time to do.

  • After the exercise
    Drink, drink and drink even more: With sufficient drinking, you can manage to compensate the loss of water due to sweating during the physical activity. Do not wait to be thirsty because the sensation of thirst is a sign that you are dehydrating right now.

    Take a recuperating drink: A recuperating drink is very important for hardcore or pro athletes to replenish the muscular reserve and repair any damaged tissues. A very straining exercise can deplete your muscular reserve very quickly. It is important to replenish this reserve in the 30 minutes following the exercise. Your muscles will have the necessary ingredients to rebuild their reserve. In these cases, the recuperating drinks must furnish you with minimum 50 g of glucides.

    NOTE: If you are doing moderate exercises, a recuperating drink is not needed for you. It will just replenish the amount of calories you have been losing during the exercise. A balanced meal is enough.
  • Doing an exercise and eating correctly is the quickest and best way to shed off weight.

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