Before and After
Don’t overlook your pre- and post-workout habits
The proper fuel gives you the necessary energy and hydration to make it through your workout and is an important part of the recovery process.
To get a greater exercise bang for your buck, learn what’s best to eat and drink –– and the one part of your workout to not overlook.
Prior to working out, it’s important to drink enough water.
“Plain water is all that you need for optimal hydration,” says Jessica Matthews, MS, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. “Aim to consume about 17 to 20 ounces two to three hours prior to exercising.”
Ten to 15 minutes before your workout, it’s ideal to drink another 8 ounces, says Heather Fink, a sports dietetics specialist and assistant director of educational services at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport.
You’ll also want to eat a light snack that contains protein and carbohydrates for energy. If you’re working out in the morning, a banana, a slice of toast or a small cup of yogurt works well, Fink says.
If you exercise after work, eat a snack mid-afternoon. Again, you’ll want to aim for a mix of protein and carbs. Fink suggests half a peanut butter sandwich, yogurt with granola, an apple with peanut butter, cottage cheese and fruit, or trail mix. Matthews suggests whole-grain crackers with string cheese.
“Carbs replace our stored energy, or glycogen,” Matthews explains. “That’s what we use up during our workout.”
While you’re working out, it’s important to keep up the hydration. Water is best, Fink and Matthews say.
Although it will depend on the individual, “the recommendation is to drink 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 15 minutes during your workout,” Matthews says.
If you’re exercising for an hour or more at a time, a sports drink is better than water because it gives you the carbs, electrolytes and simple sugars your body needs for sustenance during a long workout.
Keep in mind that low- or zero-calorie sports drinks are simply artificially flavored water, and they won’t give you the carbs you need, Fink points out.
After exercising, it’s important to continue drinking water. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 16 to 24 ounces per pound lost during a workout.
A casual exerciser –– someone working out a few days a week –– will be fine refueling with his or her next meal, which should be within 45 minutes to an hour after working out. The focus remains on carbs and protein.
“Protein is more important then,” Fink says. “You need to have a little more to rebuild the muscle tissue broken down during the session.”
If you’re working out for long periods of time, it’s important to also replenish lost sodium. Instead of a supplement, reach for cheese, lunch meat or pretzels, Fink suggests.
To Stretch or Not to Stretch
A key component of your workout that’s easy to ignore is stretching
“This is one of the most underappreciated aspects of an exercise program,” says Melissa Cusick, MS, Lifestyle Rx coordinator at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport.
Stretching is important to maintain range of motion in your joints and muscles. It reduces muscle tension, promotes circulation and relaxes the body, she says.
There are two types of stretching: static and dynamic. Static stretches are those that might remind you of gym class –– bending down and touching your toes or bending the legs at the knee to stretch your quadriceps.
Dynamic stretches involve active range of motion, Matthews says. These include things like making arm circles, swinging your legs out one at a time, or walking with arms and legs out a la Frankenstein.
So when should you perform these stretches? Before you work out, dynamic stretches are recommended, Matthews says. These increase core body temperature, joint flexibility and muscle elasticity. They prepare your body for the workout.
Performing static stretches before working out can actually lead to muscle strains and pulls, Matthews warns.
Post-exercise, static stretches are best. Your muscles are warm and more pliable. You’ll want to reach a point of mild tension, but you don’t want the move to be uncomfortable.
It’s recommended to hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, Cusick says.
“The most benefit is within the first 15 seconds,” she says. “There’s no additional benefit after that 30 second mark.”
In addition to stretching, before really cranking up the cardio machine, Cusick recommends a 5- to 10-minute warm-up.
“A warm-up increases blood flow, breathing rate and heart rate so it’s more gradual,” she says. “By taking a few minutes and warming up your body, you can see better results.”