Eating or drinking something before exercise may help maximize your workout. Even having a diluted glass of apple juice or a couple bites of low fat yogurt or cereal 20 to 30 minutes before exercise might be all you need before an early session when there is no time to wait until your workout. This will also keep your blood sugar up and keep you from feeling lightheaded.

Timing is important for pre-exercise eating. The larger and heavier the meal, the longer you should wait to exercise (roughly 4 hours for a full meal). Fats and protein are harder to digest than carbohydrates and therefore should be given ample time to digest. The digestive system and the muscular system will compete for blood flow if exercising too soon after eating. Not waiting long enough or eating too much heavy food can cause cramping and diarrhea.

Carbohydrates are your main fuel source for exercise. A lighter meal consisting mostly of easily digestible carbohydrates can be eaten 1 to 2 hours pre-exercise. The lighter the meal the closer to exercise it can be eaten. Also, liquid meals are usually easier to digest than solid meals.

Timing of post-exercise food intake is especially critical for muscle recovery. It is optimal to eat within 1 hour post exercise. This meal should include mostly carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores. This enables a person to maximize future workouts. In addition, a small amount of protein is critical for providing the amino acids to aid in muscle repair. A good ratio to follow is 4 grams of carbohydrates to 1 gram of protein.

—by Fitness Educator Ramona Stehle