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Workout Nutrition 101: How to Eat for Your Best Performance and Recovery

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Founder of Happy Healthy Human and nutrition PhD Samantha Attard writes this guest blog post for Trailfoody with some valuable tips for performance and recovery. She has a unique approach to her trail mixes that we love:  they’re tailored to affect your mood, and that’s why we were so excited to feature the Motivation mix. It’ll give you the extra kick you need to reach the summit!

After some workouts or outdoor excursions, you feel on top of the world. Your energy is good and you feel strong. After other workouts…you’re a little less king of the mountain. The worst is when you feel so crappy mid-workout you have to stop early.

Why do some workouts feel so good?

It turns out that a huge predictor of how you feel when you work out actually has to do with what you eat before, during, and after that workout. With a little bit of planning, you’ll start to feel and perform better more often. And lucky for you, eating for a great workout can be easy and delicious.

Because nutrition (and exercise nutrition) can be very confusing, let’s be clear about what sort of workout/activity we’re talking about today. For the purposes of this article, let’s assume your workout is about a 2 hour run, hike, bike ride or rock climbing session. You’re working up a sweat, but you can still breathe/talk to your neighbor. For short or longer workouts, I’ll provide some extra tips at the end.

Before Your Workout

About an hour before your workout, get some carbs and fat into your body. Your carbs will fill up with glycogen, priming your muscles for your activity, while the fats will provide you more sustained energy for your entire workout. Don’t overdo it on the fat (about 10 g or less should be sufficient), or else you’ll go into your workout feeling over-full and not ready to move.

Great choices: Banana and peanut butter, Kind Bar, carrots and hummus.

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During Your Workout

The most important thing to remember during your workout is hydration. Water is a major key to giving you enough energy and stamina throughout your workouts. This is true particularly if you’re eating dried fruit, bars, or jerkies. Because these foods have such a low water content, you actually have to rehydrate them in your body so they can be digested. That means you need extra water to keep your hydration in balance.

electrolyte hydration mixParticularly for these longer cardio workouts, include simple carbohydrates (sugar) and electrolytes for better stamina and long-term performance. Grab an electrolyte powder like PowerPak or Enduralytes to put in your water. Make sure to snack on some fruit (fresh or dried) or lower-fat energy bars to keep your activity level at your peak.

Note that I generally recommend adding food during your workout if you’re working out for longer than 75 minutes. If it’s less time, you should be fine with water and electrolytes.

For your electrolytes, I love Trace MineralsSkratch, or Enduralytes for your electrolytes. For carbohydrates:  add some delicious fruit!

After Your Workout

After you complete your workout, it’s time to refuel. This is the time to get a generous helping of protein and carbs (fat is good, too!). We often focus on getting protein after a workout, but if you don’t have enough carbohydrates to refill the glycogen in your muscles, that protein is burned for energy instead of being used to repair and build muscle.

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As soon as possible after your workout, refuel with at least 10g protein and ~15g carbs. But getting a full meal within 2 hours of your workout is another way to time your post-workout food.

Great Choices: High protein bar or shake, Happy Healthy Human Organic Trail Mix, or a huge, beautiful salad!

Your Post-workout food is one of the main determinants for how long it takes you to recover from your workout, so take it seriously! The faster you get fuel back into your body, the quicker you’ll recover and the better you’ll feel.

How to adapt this for shorter exercise:

If you’re working out for less than an hour, it’s less important that you eat directly before your workout. In fact, some people prefer to work out on an empty stomach! However, take time to notice how you feel when you do or don’t eat before your workouts, and find the right balance for you.

How to adapt this for longer exercise:

The longer you workout, the more important it is that you fuel during your workout with enough carbs and water. Researchers have found that it’s basically impossible to eat too much when you’re running or biking. The most important thing is to not only drink water but to include electrolytes while you fuel as well.

Find out what works for you

What I’ve laid out here is a guideline. You may find that your body feels better with slightly more or less food, or that you prefer sweeter or more savory meals. That’s why things like Trailfoody are so great! You can experiment with different meal choices until you figure out what works best in your unique body!

Enjoy the feeling of having your best workouts every time!

Samantha AttardAbout the author

Samantha Attard is a nutrition PhD and founder of Happy Healthy Human, a company dedicated to helping people eat, move, and live with intention. Her line of organic trail mixes are meant to help you personalize your diet and can be found in our July Trailfoody box. Stay up to date with her yoga events and workshops, or contact her for one-on-one coaching at BeHappyHealthyHuman.com