Getting a great workout goes beyond the number of reps you do or the miles you log on the treadmill. "The food you put into your body before and after you exercise can do a lot to either help or hurt your fitness," says Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D., director of sports nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. In fact, three new studies reveal that the right eats (enjoyed at the right time) can help increase your fat burn, boost your strength and curb post-workout pain. (Get moving with the songs on our workout playlist here.)
Breakfast can give you a much-needed energy boost to start your day. But when it comes to shedding pounds, it may be smarter to push your morning meal to after your workout, according to a new study in The Journal of Physiology. During the six-week study, participants who ate a high-cal, high-fat breakfast before hitting the gym packed on an average of three pounds. The after-workout eaters? They gained almost no weight—although they ate the same breakfast. Exercise elevates levels of the fat-burning hormone adrenalin, says lead researcher Karen Van Proeyen, Ph.D. But when you work out after eating, the insulin your body releases to help you digest the food blunts the spike in adrenalin. Result: You burn less fat. Can’t push through with a growling belly? "Try splitting your breakfast," suggests Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh. "Have a 4-ounce yogurt before your workout and have whole-grain toast with peanut butter and a banana afterward."
Consuming about 20 grams of protein post-workout may increase muscle building regardless of age, suggests a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (Previous research has shown that age may impair the body’s ability to digest and absorb protein.) Two eggs and a glass of milk (20 grams protein) or a Salmon Salad Sandwich (22 grams) hits this protein sweet spot.
Related Link: Salmon Salad Sandwich
Think sore muscles post-workout are a given? Maybe not. British researchers recently found that people who drank 1 ounce of concentrated cherry juice twice daily for 10 days bounced back faster from their workout (an intensive leg-resistance training session on day 8) than those who skipped the juice. The reason: The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in tart cherries—and other fruit juices like grape, pomegranate, acai, blueberry and cranberry—essentially act as natural NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin), reducing exercise-induced muscle damage.
Related Link: Sweet Cherry Recipes