Feeding the Fire: The Science of Eating for Exercise

 

Many people complain of feeling like they’ve “hit the wall” when they’re exercising, which essentially just means that you’ve burnt through all of the glucose stored as glycogen in your skeletal muscle and liver. When this happens, you’re literally running on empty. This can be dangerous because when you are dragging during a workout and forcing your body to push through the routine regardless of how you feel, you are increasing your chances of injury and becoming yet another example of someone who exercises like crazy, injures themself, takes time off to heal, goes back to exercising like crazy, injures themselves again…not only is it physically painful, but it’s almost impossible to stay motivated if this is what your exercise pattern tends to look like.

Only a dismal 21% of adults in America meet the recommendations for physical activity; we desperately need everyone to stay in the game, so please treat your body well.

After a hard endurance workout (anything that elevates your heart rate for about an hour), it’s important to consume food and beverages that have a 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio within 30 minutes after you stop exercising.

  • A medium banana and a glass of low-fat milk (215 calories, 40 grams carb; 10 grams protein)
  • 1 Tbsp almond/peanut etc. butter on a slice of whole-wheat toast (200 calories, 23 grams carb, 6 grams protein)
  • A small bowl of whole grain cereal and low-fat milk (3/4 cup of Total Whole Grain Cereal used for calculation; 210 calories, 36 grams carb, 10 grams protein)
  • One cup of low-fat chocolate milk (158 calories, 26 grams carb, 8 grams protein)
  • 9 Triscuit crackers and 1 oz low-fat cheddar cheese (229 calories, 31 grams carb, 11 grams protein)
  • 1 small whole-wheat pita with 3 Tbsp hummus (145 calories, 22 grams carb, 6 grams protein)
  • 15 almonds and 1 medium orange (165 calories, 20 grams carb, 5 grams protein)
  • ¼ cup trail mix (175 calories, 16 grams carb, 5 grams protein)

After a difficult strength training session, the snack should consist of a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein

  • Kind bar (Caramel, Almond and Sea Salt used for calculation; 200 calories, 15 grams carb, 6 grams protein)
  • 1 large apple and 1 container plain Greek yogurt sweetened with 1 tsp honey (311 calories, 47 grams carb, 23 grams protein)
  • 2 low-fat cheese sticks, 1 cup seedless grapes, and 5 whole-wheat crackers (331 calories, 30 grams carb, 15 grams protein)
  • 1 small whole-wheat tortilla, ¼ cup black beans, ¼ cup cheddar cheese, ¼ cup salsa (252 calories, 30 grams carbohydrate, 15 grams protein)
  • ½ cup shelled edamame and 1/3 cup chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) (195 calories, 27 grams carb, 14 grams protein)
  • ½ cup 1% cottage cheese, 1 medium peach, 3 graham cracker squares (220 calories, 32 grams carb, 16 grams protein)
  • 1 cup air-popped popcorn and 15 almonds (135 calories, 10 grams carb, 5 grams protein)

You will still need to eat a meal within two hours after you eat your recovery snack if you’ve had a tough workout (1 hour with elevated heart rate or heavy weight lifting). This should contain approximately 0.4 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight and 0.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

Weight Grams Carb Grams Protein
150 pounds 60 30
160 pounds 64 32
170 pounds 68 34
180 pounds 72 36
190 pounds 76 38
200 pounds 80 40
210 pounds 84 42
220 pounds 88 44
230 pounds 92 46
240 pounds 96 48
250 pounds 100 50

The following foods contain 15 grams of carb:

  • 1/3 of a large bagel
  • 1 slice bread
  • ½ of a hotdog or hamburger buns
  • ½ of an English muffin
  • 4 – 6 crackers
  • 6” tortilla
  • ½ cup bran flakes
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cold cereal
  • 1/3 cup couscous, pasta, or rice
  • ½ cup quinoa
  • ½ cup mashed potato
  • ½ cup corn or peas
  • ¼ large baked potato
  • ½ cup sweet potato
  • 1/3 cup baked beans
  • ½ cup other beans – black, garbanzo, kidney, navy, lima, pinto, etc.
  • 1/3 cup hummus
  • 1 small apple or orange
  • ½ of a banana
  • ¾ cup blueberries
  • 1 cup cantaloupe
  • 12 cherries
  • 17 small grapes
  • 1 kiwi
  • ½ cup mango
  • 1 medium peach
  • ½ large pear
  • 2 small plum
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 ¼ cup strawberries
  • 1 ¼ cup watermelon
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup lite yogurt
  • 3 squares graham crackers
  • 3 cups popcorn
Food Protein Content
1 egg 6 grams
¼ cup sunflower seeds 6 grams
1 Tbsp nut butter 7 grams
¼ cup cooked beans or peas 7 grams
2 Tbsp hummus 7 grams
1 oz cheddar cheese 8 grams
1 cup cow’s milk or soy milk 8 grams
2 Tbsp peanut butter 8 grams
¼ cup almonds 8 grams
¼ cup peanuts 9 grams
1 chicken thigh 10 grams
1 chicken drumstick 11 grams
½ cup cottage cheese 15 grams
½ cup tofu 20 grams
1 pork chop 22 grams
4 oz hamburger patty 28 grams
4 oz pork tenderloin 29 grams
3.5 oz chicken breast 30 grams
4 oz turkey breast 34 grams
6 oz steak 42 grams

I won’t lie – it does take planning to ensure that you’re eating for peak physical performance, but like all things, it will definitely get easier with time. Eventually you’ll have a list of “go to” snacks and meals and you won’t feel like you’re a walking calculator. Hopefully, you’ll feel like the athlete that you are (or will soon be).

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