Image Credit: Collin J Riviello for The Campus Trainer
Working out has a number of great benefits, for many it is a way to relieve stress, build endurance and become stronger. Daily physical activity is important for so many aspects of physical and mental health. However, when exercise is not supplemented with proper nutrition, it can take a significant toll on the body.
For many people, it is difficult to figure out what foods they should eat in order to complement their workout routines. Should you eat before or after exercising, and what should you eat? When should you hydrate, and how much should you drink? While the answers to these questions are relatively simple, it is easy for many people to forget that a fruitful diet is essential to ensuring they reap the benefits of exercise. Sister Maureen Schrimpe, the University of Maryland Dining Services nutritionist, said it is important for people to eat both before and after a workout. Doing so maximizes the quality of the workout.
“You can't just go all day with no food and think you're going to effectively work out, you're doing more harm than good,” Schrimpe said.
According to Schrimpe, eating before physical activity provides the body with an energy boost and supports it during exercise. A pre-workout snack should include carbohydrates, protein and fat, and could be a fruit smoothie or apples and peanut butter.
Rachael May, a senior dietetics major at the University of Maryland and a peer nutrition coach for the University Health Center, named a number of ways in which eating before a workout supports the body.
“Pre-workout fueling is really important to ensure that our muscles have an adequate supply of glycogen stores, which minimize the fatigue while you're actually working out, and it's also really important, because, eating before a workout will obviously prevent hunger pains during your workout which can lead to decreased focus during it, as well,” she said.
For a post-workout meal or snack, Schrimpe said more carbohydrates and protein are important for building muscle. She recommended eating a lunch meat sandwich, tuna salad with crackers, or a fruit smoothie with greek yogurt.
May also said that eating after exercise is necessary to refuel muscles and support muscle recovery. She recommended eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a quick, replenishing snack.
Emily Hillig, a junior dietetics major, said that she has been doing a lot of hiking lately, and to supplement her body while climbing, she packs a variety of snacks, including dried fruits and nuts. For more difficult hikes, she said she packed a full meal to take along with her.
“I went hiking in Old Rag… it was the hardest track I've ever done. I packed, like two apples, three clementines, two sandwiches, trail mix, stuff like that and I went through both sandwiches…. I went through everything,” she said.
Hillig said some people might think that was a lot of food, but she said eating while hiking helped her climb. “Don’t get me wrong, I was tired at the end, but I wasn’t struggling because I was fueling,” she said.
Schrimpe also stressed the need for hydration before, after and during a workout to support the body. “It’s important to hydrate with water, we can’t say that enough,” she said.
May also said hydration is the key to avoiding muscle cramping while exercising, especially if it's a rigorous workout. Overall, it is important to remember that food is fuel and is essential to having good, beneficial workouts. May said maintaining a balanced diet keeps the body nourished, so that it can better perform physical activities.
“Food is fuel, and you need energy to be working out. And if you're not eating, then...it can lead to fatigue, it can lead to decreased performance… it's really important to see food as energy,” she said.
Nonetheless, supporting the body through food does not mean people need to restrict themselves from eating their favorite foods. Both May and Hillig said that people can enjoy the foods they like, even while working out. Treating yourself supports the body and helps to maintain a healthy relationship with food.