Fueling Your Body to Optimize Your Workouts

Only one month left until race day! Surprisingly, I’ve managed to stick to my training schedule for the most part and have kept myself motivated enough to go for a run at least 2-3 days a week. Just last night I finally made it through the full 5k without stopping to walk – in just over 30 minutes! My goal now is to continue improving my time so I can finish the race in less than 28 minutes.

What I’ve quickly discovered as my training continues is just how important it is to eat the right foods prior to and after a workout. Seeing as I don’t get home from work until 6:30 and it starts to get dark now at around 7:15, my window of opportunity for outdoor exercise during the work week is getting smaller and smaller (the idea of running around outside in the dark on my own makes me uncomfortable). Therefore, it’s becoming increasingly important for me to prepare pre-workout snacks and meals in advance to ensure I have enough time to digest my food and run when it’s still light outside.

I decided to do a bit more research to figure out what foods are the best to eat before and after a workout, because I’ve noticed on days where I eat properly that running longer distances is much easier (and therefore more enjoyable!). On days where I don’t eat enough, eat too much, or eat the wrong things I feel a lot more sluggish – sometimes even sick – and really have to push myself to get through a workout.

So here’s the gist of what I’ve learned!

Before a Cardio Workout
You should have a light meal/snack approximately 30-60 minutes before a cardio session. Carbs should constitute about 75-100% of the meal, while protein should constitute the rest. The carbs get metabolized quickly into glucose (energy), while the protein helps keep this energy supply constant for the duration of your workout. Aim for low Glycemic Index (GI) carbs such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, as they release sugar into the bloodstream more slowly and provide more sustainable energy. Don’t forget to hydrate well by drinking plenty of water throughout the day before your workout!

Examples of some good pre-cardio meals could include:

  • A slice of whole grain toast with natural peanut butter (or other nut butter)135
  • Plain Greek yogurt with whole grain granola and dried fruits
  • A homemade fruit smoothie, perhaps made with some yogurt, granola, or whey protein
  • A small bowl of oatmeal with nuts and fresh berries
  • Scrambled egg whites stuffed in a small whole wheat pita, with a side of carrot sticks

My go-to pre-workout snack typically consists of about ¼ cup of organic granola with a bit of almond milk, and a couple of organic whole grain crackers topped with natural peanut butter. Just enough fuel to keep me going, but not too much so that I feel full!

After a Cardio Workout
Within 30 minutes after completing a cardio workout, you should definitely re-hydrate with plenty of water, as well as a carbohydrate-rich snack or light meal. The key is to replace carbohydrates and electrolytes lost during your workout, so think whole grains, fruits and veggies! A bit of protein to help aid muscle recovery and growth is also important.

Examples of some good post-cardio meals could include:075

  • Apple slices topped with peanut or almond butter
  • A fruit smoothie made with yogurt and almond milk
  • Sliced fruit and/or veggies with a handful of walnuts
  • A small veggie omelet topped with sliced avocado
  • An open-faced sandwich with hummus and fresh veggies

My favourite post-workout smoothie is a combination of frozen banana slices, unsweetened almond milk, natural peanut butter, ground flaxseed, and chia seeds – deeeeelicious!

Of course, everyone has different fitness and health goals, so the above options might not appeal to you or your dietary needs. For those that are interested in some general information, I found this guideline to be really helpful (courtesy of Pinterest):

The Complete Guide to Workout Nutriton [Infographic]

Be Well & Keep Training Hard!

Healthy Eating 101

March is National Nutrition Month! For the month of March, I’ll be publishing a variety of posts I like to call the “101” series. Each post will focus on providing some basic information and tips related to a particular area of nutrition*.

Nutrition is a topic that I love promoting, as it’s an area of wellness that I’m very passionate about and enjoy learning more about. Proper nutrition is important for maintaining good health and positive well-being. Despite what many people might think, maintaining a healthy diet doesn’t have to be a difficult task – you just need to remember 3 things: Balance, Moderation, and Variety.

A balanced diet refers to a diet that includes foods from the four major food groups: fruits and vegetables, starches and grains, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives. Of course, everyone has different dietary needs and preferences, but Canada’s Food Guide is a good place for most people to start in order to determine how much and which types of foods make up a healthy, balanced diet. Quick sidenote – yes, carbs are an important component of a healthy diet! Despite what some people might think, carbs alone do not contribute to weight gain. Excess calorie consumption in general can pack on the pounds. In fact, research shows that eating whole grains on a regular basis may actually help you lose weight.

Variety is the spice of life! It’s important to eat a wide range of foods from every food group because they each provide different nutrients. Eating a diet that is more varied can help ensure that you are getting all of the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs for good health. Don’t be afraid to switch things up and try something new!

Ah, moderation.. the word that everyone refers to when justifying their decision to reach for a second helping of dessert. It’s okay to indulge once in a while and reward ourselves with a little treat. But what exactly does “moderation” mean? I was always told that it’s okay to follow the “90:10” or “80:20” rule, meaning that you should aim to eat healthy foods 80-90% of the time, and the other 10-20% of the time it’s okay to indulge a little bit. Some people refer to this 10-20% as their “cheat day”. My opinion is that moderation is going to mean something different for everyone. The bottom line is that you should aim to eat healthy meals and snacks as often as you can, but it’s okay if you slip up every once in a while. Just try not to beat yourself up over it – we are human, after all!

If you’re trying to eat healthier, there’s no better time to start than now. You just need to know where and how to begin! Try starting off with some of these tips:

1) Have a clear sense of your main goal. “Eat healthier” is too general. Try breaking it down into smaller, more achievable milestones, such as “For the month of March I will ensure that all the grains I eat are whole grains”, or “I will eat at least 8 servings of fruits and vegetables every day this week”. Behaviour change is more attainable and sustainable if it’s broken down into realistic objectives. Start small, then go from there!

2) Plan ahead. Having regular access to healthy meals and snacks will make you less likely to seek out fast food. We like what’s available and convenient for us. Try setting aside some time every Sunday to prepare your meals and snacks for the coming week. You’ll be more likely to stay on track if you’re organized and prepared! Here’s a snapshot of one of my Sunday prep sessions:

Sunday Night Food Prep

I made a black bean salad, a batch of homemade applesauce, hard-boiled some eggs, and chopped up some fresh fruits and vegetables for the week. It took about an hour to prepare, which can seem like a long time, but it made my life a lot easier for the remainder of the week!

3) Don’t feel like you have to do it alone. Recruit a friend or family member to join you in your quest for better health. It will be easier to stay on track if you have someone there to support and motivate you along the way! Smartphone apps can also be helpful virtual motivators. Some of my favourites include MyFitness Pal and SlimKicker.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek professional advice. EatRight Ontario is an excellent resource that provides free access to Registered Dietitians. They’re just a phone call away!

Stay tuned for the next post in this “101” series about how to read food labels! I’ll be posting healthy recipe ideas as well to help keep you motivated :) Try to challenge yourself for the month of March to eat healthy, wholesome foods – your body will thank you for it!

Be Well xo

*The information provided in this post is based on national standards for proper nutrition as recommended by Health Canada. I am not a Registered Dietitian or Certified Nutritionist, therefore the information presented here need not be interpreted as professional advice. You should consult a certified professional if you are seeking specific advice or recommendations about your diet.