Thursday, August 25, 2011

Finished your workout? You're not done!

Think all you have to do is stretch after exercise? Think again! Whether your goals are improved body composition, enhanced performance, or overall weight loss, what you eat after a workout might be the most important thing you eat all day (after breakfast, of course).

Last week I wrote of the importance of the pre-workout snack. So what’s the big deal with the post-workout eating? Eating within 60 minutes after exercising improves muscle recovery and muscle resynthesis, as well as helps prepare you for the next workout. The secret, however, is what you put in that post-snack. On the way home from the gym, try to resist the temptation for that donut or fast food treat because you “earned it”. That doesn’t do your muscles any good, and I guarantee it will not help you reach your health or fitness goals. Instead, what you should eat is very similar to what I discussed last week for before your workout: Carb and protein. The difference is that now you’re done working out so you can afford to eat a greater overall volume with a bit more healthy fat without the fear of getting sick.

Here are a few ideas. Each of these contain about about 75gm of carb and 20gm of protein, which is what you should aim for after a workout:
  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread, 2 Tbsp peanut butter, 1 Tbsp jelly, and 1 cup 1% milk
  • 1 baked potato, 1/4 cup (2% milk) shredded cheese, 1 cup broccoli, 2 Tbsp tub butter/margarine (such as Olivio or Smart Balance)
  • 1 pita bread, 1/4 cup hummus, 1 banana, 1 mozzarella cheese stick
  • Clif Bar/Powerbar/Harvest Bar with 2 cups 1% milk
Here are a few things to consider when planning your post-workout intake, depending on your goals and situation:

1. If you’re trying to build muscle, increase the protein and decrease the carb slightly from the recommendations above. Try for a ratio of 2:1 of carbs to protein (an example would be 50 gm of carb and 25 gm of protein). Some energy/granola bars on the market are this exact ratio…for this exact reason, so check your food labels. And try to eat your snack within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. This is when the majority of muscle synthesis is occurring.

2. If you’re trying to lose weight, try to work in pre- and post-workout eating as one of your snacks and meals, respectively. While it is important to decrease overall caloric intake to achieve weight loss, decreasing caloric intake immediately before or after your workout will cause your body to less efficiently burn fat for fuel, and instead be forced to burn muscle for energy. Focus on other times during the day when you can decrease portions.

3. If you normally head to a main meal right from a workout, there is no need to add in a separate post-workout snack, provided you eat that meal within an hour after exercise. At that meal, follow the guidelines above for carb and protein – the correct ratio is important.

So what’s the deal with low-fat chocolate milk? Many of you have probably read or seen the plethora of reports on the greatness that is low-fat chocolate in terms of recovery. The honest truth is…it really is quite great. Why? Because the protein in the milk plus the carbohydrate from the milk and added chocolate creates a perfect ratio of carb to protein post-workout. Plus it tastes much better and is cheaper than many of the “recovery shakes ” currently on the market. Just make sure it is low fat…you don’t need the added saturated fat in the whole fat varieties, plus too much fat will actually keep the good nutrients from getting to your muscles for recovery. And isn’t that the whole point of this jazz anyhow? So, indulge in that delicious LOW-FAT chocolate milk, but stick to no more than 2 cups as part of your post workout feeding.

So don't just stretch those muscles after exercise - refuel them!

Be extraordinary,


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Don't forget to pack a snack!

Last week I talked about meeting food and fluid recommendations during workouts. This is a critical part of your training plan. But often-times more important is how well you fuel before and after that workout. Food is energy, and without enough of it at the right time, you are risking illness and injury to your body and will delay gains in muscle, speed, and endurance. This week I'll focus on what you should be eating before a workout. Come back next week to see why your job doesn't stop when the workout ends.

So you're supposed to eat before you train...But what to eat? For many of you, a pre-workout snack may consist of whatever you can find in your car on the way to the gym after work…or perhaps that mid-afternoon diet coke or vending machine visit normally suffices. However, don’t underestimate the importance of fueling your muscles properly before a workout. Eating ~60 minutes before a workout tops off your liver and muscle glycogen (stored energy), which allows you to maintain intensity throughout your workout. In addition, when you store energy from carbohydrates, you also store water. About 2.7 grams of water is stored with each gram of glycogen. This means that your body will be better hydrated during the workout.

Ideally, you should be consuming ~30-50gm of carbohydrate and 10-20gm of protein in a pre-workout snack. Carbohydrates are foods such as bread, potatoes, crackers, fruit, bagels, and oatmeal (to name a few). Protein is found in foods such as milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, tuna, lean meats and poultry, and nuts. Pre-workout snacks also need to be low in fiber and low in fat, which both slow down digestion. Too much “slow” 60 minutes before a workout can mean some seriously uncomfortable GI issues or can simply delay nutrients getting to your muscles by the time you begin exercising.
Here are some great examples of snacks that meet all of the above guidelines. 60 minutes before your workout, reach for one of these:
  • 1 banana with 1.5 Tbsp of peanut butter
  • 16 animal crackers + 8 fl. oz. of skim milk
  • 1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts + 1/4 cup raisins
  • 4 Fig Newtons + (1) light string cheese
  • 1 piece of bread + 1 Tbsp jelly + 1 Tbsp peanut butter
Keep in mind that what athletes can tolerate is very individual. For example, I could never drink milk before a run, but I can pretty much eat anything before a bike workout. Try out a few different snacks and pay attention to how you feel during your workout. There are also a lot of great granola bars that meet the above guidelines. In fact, storing a box of granola bars in your car just for pre-workout snacks can be a great help for those on-the-go athletes. Try Nature Valley or Kashi for starters!

Of course after reading last week's blog, you'll know that with that pre-workout snack, you should be adding water that you have also been drinking consistently throughout the day...right?

Want to know what you should do after you workout? You'll just have to wait until next week...

Be extraordinary,

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Do you like to drink?

If I had a dollar for every client that said, "I probably don't drink as much as I should", I would have hired someone else to blog for me by now! Whether it's before, during, or after a workout, many athletes struggle with staying hydrated properly throughout the day. Last week I talked about the huge variety of water bottles and belts available to help you stay hydrated during your workout. So lets continue on that theme and this week discuss what type of fluid and how much to put in that lovely bottle or belt that you all bought last week. Remember, the goal of drinking during exercise is to prevent excessive dehydration, which is losing more than 2% of your body weight during a workout.

Gatorade or water? G2 or Powerade Zero? Electrolyte tabs? Glycerol? The choices are plenty...

Gatorade or water?
Which you use depends on what type of workout you're doing. If the workout will be greater than an hour or a very intense workout (such as intervals or hill repeats) lasting at least 30 minutes, using a sports drink (i.e. Gatorade, Powerade, Lucozade, etc.) is the better idea. At this level of intensity or length of workout, you will start depleting your body's glycogen (stored energy, which comes mainly from carbohydrate) and will be loosing significant electrolytes (mainly sodium) in your sweat. Remember that electrolytes in a sports drink actually help your body hold on to the water in the drink. They also play a role muscle contraction and may help prevent muscle cramping.

G2 or Powerade Zero?
Many sports drink companies make specialty drinks such as G2, Powerade Zero, and Gatorade Endurance. These each have a specific purpose. G2 is low calorie; it contains half the amount of carbohydrate as regular Gatorade or Powerade. This is a great choice for kids, adults involved in a lower intensity workout, or adults concerned about their carbohydrate intake. Powerade Zero - as implied by the name - has absolutely no energy (calories), but still provides electrolyte supplementation. It is a good choice for kids or adults doing very low intensity exercise in intense heat. Either of these products may also be a good choice for those trying to lose weight. Gatorade Endurance has the same nutritional make-up as regular Gatorade, but it provides double the amount of electrolytes. If you are a heavy sweater, this is your product! How do you know if you sweat heavily? If your shirt is drenched when others' are slightly damp or when you see white salty stains around the neckline of your shirt, chances are you would be labeled a heavy sweater. Those prone to cramping may also benefit from this product.

Electrolyte tab or Glycerol?
Electrolyte tabs have grown in popularity over the last few years. Athletes often add them to Gatorade or water during training and races to help stay hydrated or to prevent cramping. Add them to Gatorade and you've got a version of Gatorade Endurance; add them to water and you've got a version of Powerade Zero. Not an exact science, but you get the idea. Electrolyte tabs can be a great tool, but how many you use and how often is best determined by consulting with a sports dietitian. Glycerol is often taken by athletes trying to over-hydrate themselves for a race. While in theory it could work, this technique has some pretty uncomfortable digestive side effects and has not shown to improve performance.

But how much?
Once you choose your fluid, next you need to figure out how much of it you should be drinking. Fluid needs during exercise are ~6-12 ounces (~1-1.5 cups) every 15 minutes. There is a range because of the difference in sweat rates among athletes. Gender, body size, body composition, environment, clothing, genetics, sport, and position all affect sweat rate. American football players can lose up to 2 L of fluid per hour during summer training! As you can see, this makes it difficult to provide a blanket recommendation, but starting with 6-12 ounces every 15 minutes will likely get you in the ballpark.

Carbohydrate needs during exercise are ~60 gm per hour after the first hour of exercise. All that carbohydrate does not HAVE to come from fluid, but athletes often just use a sports drink because it is the easiest and best tolerated option. Again, 60 gm per hour is just a guideline, so consulting with a sports dietitian for your individual needs is the best advice.

So grab that water bottle or belt, pick a fluid, and have a great workout!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hydration - don't leave home without it

Yesterday was Day 1 of my marathon training for the Detroit Marathon in October! Unfortunately, the heat index yesterday in Chicago was a comfortable 101 degrees. Because I was going out for a 6 mile run, I knew that hydration was going to be important for me to have a successful run. Although I had hydrated well during the day, I know that it easy to lose 2% of my body weight during even a short run. Any weight loss above 2% drastically affects performance due to increases in heart rate and core temperature. If you're exercising in a gym or on a court, keeping hydration close by is fairly easy. However, for endurance athletes - particularly runners - this can tricky. It is from these athletes that I typically hear, "Well, I would have drunk water during my run but there wasn't any along my route." So sad, but this is no longer a valid excuse. Endurance runners now have many options when it comes to staying hydrated...

What type of hydration apparatus or fuel belt you use is dependent on the length of your workout. If you are doing a run longer than 50-60min, you might opt for a fuel belt. The fuel belt brand offers belts that have anywhere from one to eight bottles. Bottle size varies but can be as high as 22oz. per bottle. Of course the larger the bottle, the fewer bottles you will need to carry. However, I would caution you to be sure to train with the belt before using it in a race, as the belts can be HEAVY and also somewhat awkward, so do take some getting used to. The nice thing about these is that most also have a zipped storage area for holding keys, an ID, or energy gels/chews.

Even if not running for a full hour, some runners don't like holding even one water bottle. Therefore, using a fuel belt that holds only one bottle is a great option. Here is one specifically advertised for trail running; the water bottle side typically is worn in the back. Personally, I just love the camo:

Another option if you only need one bottle is a palm holder (assuming you don't mind holding the water bottle). There are also many varieties and sizes of these, but here is one designed for a relatively longer run (because the bottle is 22oz). It has a convenient strap that wraps around your hand, which surprisingly makes it leaps and bounds easier than just carrying a water bottle alone. Plus the strap typically has a storage area for keys, an ID, or perhaps some type of energy gels or chews.

Although these are all great options, my personal favorite is the Vapor bottle. I love it because my small, feminine hands often hurt after using a palm holder for too long. Plus as the bottle becomes less full, it can actually be folded in half, which is doubly convenient when running.
Although these come in a variety of sizes, they don't hold a huge amount of water, so wouldn't be good for a long run. However, if I'm running less than 50 minutes, this is my go-to hydration partner.

Any fuel belt or water holder is only as effective as it is used. So find one that you like and that you will actually drink from. Remember you should be drinking 8-12 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes. Add in sports drink if your workout will be longer than an hour or if you are doing an interval workout. The more you sweat, the more fluid and electrolytes you need. Happy drinking!

Monday, August 1, 2011


Hello current and future followers!

Thank you for visiting my blog. Come back and visit regularly for tip, recipes, and advice to bring your athletic endeavors to the next level. Whether you're training to compete with other people or just yourself, this blog is essential to your success.

Please feel free to leave comments or questions at the end of each post. Subscribe to my blog by email to stay current with my updates (click on link at the end of the post). I would love for you to share my posts on your facebook or Twitter as well!

Here's to using sports nutrition to help YOU become an extraodinary competitor!

Katie Murtha MS, RD