Physical activity is an important part of living a balanced lifestyle. However, movement throughout the day and participating in physical activity requires energy. To make sure we have enough energy, we have to fuel our bodies with the right food and nutrition. Similar to how a car requires gas/fuel to function, our bodies need enough nutrients from food to perform. Whether you enjoy biking, walking, playing sports, or dancing, your body needs to be nourished for movement. So, let’s talk about how we can fuel up with the right foods and nutrition!
When should I eat?
It’s important to eat before physical activity. The body needs calories before physical activity to have enough energy to get through the game or exercise. This doesn’t mean a snack or meal is needed immediately before movement; you can also fuel your body for activity by consuming a larger meal 2-3 hours beforehand. However, if exercising in between meals, it’s best to have a quick snack 30 to 60 minutes before.
The body also requires nourishment to replenish and refuel after a workout. Similar to when a car’s gas tank starts to run low, your body’s energy stores can be depleted by physical activity. In order to allow your body and muscles to recover after movement, it is important to consume either a snack or meal after physical activity. Our muscles break down during exercise, so food also helps to repair and build new muscle.
How should I fuel up?
The snack or meal before physical activity should have mostly carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the body’s first energy source. Some nourishing ideas for foods to include in a pre-workout meal are bananas, whole grain bread or pasta, rice, and quinoa.
After exercise, our bodies need more carbohydrates to replenish our energy as well as protein to restore the muscles we have worked. Carbohydrates replace the energy that was used while protein builds muscle. Having a source of protein in a meal or snack will also help you to feel fuller for longer. Some good protein sources include chicken, beans, low-fat Greek yogurt, and eggs.
Before Exercise: A meal or snack with a carbohydrate as the base is perfect for fueling up. Below are some recipe ideas if you’re having a meal as well as some snack options.
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal: Oats are a whole grain, so they are a good source of carbohydrates. This recipe will make a tasty breakfast if you enjoy moving in the morning.
Berry Jams Party Bites: The best part of this recipe is that you can make it your own by topping with your favorite fruit. You’ll also feel fuller for longer with the fiber in the fruit and protein in the peanut butter.
Fried Rice: Brown rice is another whole grain, which is also good for heart health. The vegetables add color to the plate to provide nutrients as well.
Pre-Movement Quick Snack Ideas: granola bars, applesauce, bananas, or whole grain toast
After Exercise: A meal or snack that has a source of protein and carbohydrates is ideal for after physical activity. Below are some recipe ideas or quick snacks in between meals.
Italian Bean Patties: This recipe contains beans, which are a source of plant-based protein. It also uses seasonings for great flavor without increasing sodium content. Enjoy these patties on a whole grain bun for the perfect protein and carbohydrate combination.
Garden Fiesta Tuna Pockets: The best part of this recipe is that it convenient for on-the-go meals when you are limited on time. The protein comes from the tuna and the black beans while the carbohydrates comes from the pita pocket.
Egg Salad Sandwich: Eggs are an inexpensive and filling source of protein. This recipe can be made ahead of time as well if you want something quick for after your workout. Have this on whole grain bread for a good after exercise meal.
Post-Movement Quick Snack Ideas: Greek yogurt with granola, hard-boiled eggs with a slice of whole grain toast, apples and peanut butter, or crackers and hummus.
What are your favorite pre- and post-exercise snacks?
By, Morgan Gregg, M.S. and Kenzie Kline