What to Eat When You Work Out

workoutThe downside of working out is that you get super hungry. I've been doing an hour of cardio followed by 30 minutes of abs on Tuesdays. Afterward, I'm ready to eat the dog. But the dog is really fattening.

I'm hungrier when I exercise, but I'm also trying to keep weight down. I feel great after working out, then that feeling is void when I eat a whole pizza followed by a pound of ham.

I don't know how to handle my hunger pangs. So I asked Alicia Hynek, R.D., nutrition coach for Life Time Fitness for advice on what to eat when you work out.


Do these two things when you're working out a lot.

  1. Drink water. When your body is dehydrated, your workout suffers and isn't as efficient. With lack of hydration, your blood thickens making your heart work harder during your workout. Dehydration can also lead to a slower metabolism which could lead to weight gain. Prevent dehydration prior to exercising. Drink 8 to 16 oz of water right away when you wake up in the morning. During a workout, drink water every 15 minutes. I advise everyone to drink half their body weight in ounces every day. Water is what our bodies really want.
  2. Before a workout, eat. To burn more, we must eat more. You'll need carbohydrates, protein and fat. Example: 1/2 whole wheat bagel with 1 tablespoon peanut butter and 1/2 turkey sandwich on whole grain bread. You'll need complex carbs before you workout such as whole wheat bread, pita, oatmeal. Something is better than nothing!

You need 200 to 300 extra calories per day.

Every person’s nutritional needs will be different depending on the type of exercise they are doing and they're body size. A medium-build woman who's active will need 1200 to 1500 calories per day. A woman who frequently does 1 hour of cardio, swimming, yoga or Pilates would need a 200- to 300-calorie post-workout snack. She could have:

  • a smoothie with 1 scoop whey isolate protein powder, a cup of frozen berries and a 4 oz plain yogurt.
  • a hard boiled egg with a mini whole grain bagel and a banana.

Specific nutrients and supplements an exercise mama should be sure to get:

  • Make sure you are incorporating whole grains with adequate fiber, 25 to 35 mg per day, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats.
  • I highly recommend a Fish Oil Omega 3 supplement because it is an excellent source of healthy fats. Fish oils have also been shown to decrease inflammation and joint tenderness, reduce risk of depression and enhance heart health.
  • Carbohydrates re-energize our body after exercise and make it easier to to do it again.
  • Get at least 110 g of protein a day if you do cardio 4 to 5 times a week. If you do cardio plus resistance training, shoot for 150 g of protein.
  • If we talk in percentages, an active woman needs 45 percent carbs (whole grains and fruit), 33 percent lean protein and 22 percent fat (good fats).

To keep from overeating:

  • First thing, is to hydrate yourself with a glass of water. Nine times out of 10, we think we are hungry when we're really just thirsty.
  • Keep track of your calories with a food journal. If you're working out hard, you need more calories, but...
  • Try to get most of those from fruits and veggies.

Thanks to Alicia Hynek, RD, I see that my post-workout banana is probably not enough. I'll need to add yogurt and little bit of protein. I used to carry around peanut butter and crackers, but no so much these days. I'm scared of salmonella death by peanut butter.

I also like the group Why Weight? for diet advice and motivation. If you need a workout buddy, you'll find one there.

Hip hop class plus abs has me craving Twinkies today. And pizza. And a roasted pig. But I will forage for healthy food instead, and keep those calories in check. How hungry are you after a workout?

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