Getting a great workout goes beyond the number of reps you do or the miles you log on the treadmill (though that does help
too). In all the running road races I've trained for—from 5Ks to marathons—I know that what I put into my body before and
after a race or a training run can either help or hinder my performance.
Related: Find Out What Some of the World's Top Athletes
Eat to Win
Regardless of what type of exercise suits your fancy, here are some tips on what to eat before, during and after a workout,
as previously reported on in EatingWell
A low-glycemic-index meal:
If you're the type of person who can't work out on an
empty stomach, you may want to try this to boost your fat burn: eat a meal made with "slow-release" carbohydrates (think:
oatmeal, bran cereal, a whole-wheat bagel or toast) three hours before you work out. In a study published in the Journal
, researchers assessed the rate of fat burn among eight healthy women after they ate two breakfasts: muesli
with milk, peaches, yogurt and apple juice on one day; cornflakes with skim milk, white bread with margarine and jam and an
energy drink on another day. Both meals contained similar amounts of calories, but the first breakfast (muesli) was a
low-glycemic-index (GI) meal, meaning it produced smaller spikes in blood sugar than the second breakfast, which was a
high-GI meal. Generally, foods that contain protein, fat and/or fiber—and are digested more slowly—fall lower on the GI scale
than those that consist mostly of carbohydrate (e.g., white bread). On the days when the women ate the low-GI breakfast, they
burned nearly twice as much fat during a 60-minute walk as they did on the days when they ate the high-GI meal. Why? The
muesli (low-GI) breakfast was more slowly digested so it didn't spike blood-glucose levels as high as the cornflake (high-GI)
breakfast did. In turn, insulin levels didn't spike as high either—which probably explains why the muesli-eating women burned
more fat, says Ian MacDonald, Ph.D., director of research at the University of Nottingham Medical School. Insulin plays a
role in signaling your body to store fat. So, lower levels of insulin might help you to burn fat.
Related: The Best
Breakfast Foods for Weight Loss
Water: Staying hydrated can help you perform better: in one study, people who were
just slightly dehydrated were typically only able to run, for example, about 75 percent as hard as usual. Hydrate
pre-exercise with 2 to 3 cups of water, 2 to 3 hours before exercising.
During your workout:
Honey: To boost your energy during endurance activities, recent research suggests
that carbohydrate blends (foods containing fructose and glucose) may be superior to straight glucose. But before you reach
for a sports drink, consider honey: like sugar, it naturally has equal parts fructose and glucose, but it also contains a
handful of antioxidants and vitamins. (The darker the honey, the more disease-fighting compounds it contains.)
Drinking flavored water while you're working out might make it easier
to stay hydrated. In one study, people given flavored water while exercising drank more than exercisers given plain water.
Choose wisely though: some brands can deliver as much added sugars as soft drinks while others use artificial sweeteners to
cut the calorie load. What
about coconut water and sports drinks? Find out what to drink, when, here.
If your workout lasts an hour or more, have a glass of chocolate (or
plain) milk. The carbohydrates in it will help replenish the energy stored in your muscles (called glycogen stores) and aid
in muscle recovery—more so than a carb-only drink. Don't like milk? Substitute with a post-workout snack of banana and peanut
Tart cherry juice: Tart cherry juice delivers antioxidants that mop up the harmful
free radicals produced when you exercise. And research shows that a daily dose of cherry juice may help ease inflammation
that causes sore muscles. A 2010 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that
runners who downed 24 ounces of tart cherry juice (about 480 calories) for seven days before a long-distance race, and again
on race day, reported fewer aches afterward than runners who drank a placebo. Skip the juice right before or while you're
exercising, though: fructose, the primary sugar in fruit, takes longer to digest than other sugars (like those in sports
drinks), so drinking juice before or during exercise may cause stomach cramps.