Everybody knows that you need to eat the right things if you want to stay healthy and fit. But what are the “right things”? What does your body need in order to help you stay active?
One important answer is glucose. Glucose is the fuel your body needs, especially at the beginning of exercise. Even after you’ve been exercising for a while and your muscles are getting energy from fat, glucose is still important. It’s like gasoline for your body – so keep your gas tank full.
Where do you get glucose? You get it from carbohydrates. Maintain a well-balanced diet and choose lots of fruit and vegetables to go with your grains (pasta, rice, bread, cereal). And remember to eat the right things at the right times – food takes time to digest.
Water is another part of eating healthy. You need water to keep the nutrients circulating in your body and to clear out the waste. And you sweat off a lot of water when you exercise (even if you’re swimming). You can get your water from milk, juice, sports drinks – or plain old water.
Here’s what to eat and drink before, during and after exercise:
More than 3 hours before exercising
- Eat a regular meal if you want, since you’ll have enough time to digest. Balance a serving of lean meat with a good amount of carbohydrates – rice, spaghetti or bread – plus fruit and vegetables and water, milk or juice.
- Drink regular amounts of fluid – a glass or two every hour.
Just before exercising
- Stick with light, easy-to-digest snacks. Go for fruits and fruit snacks, perhaps with a few light carbohydrates (graham crackers, cereal, a muffin).
- Keep yourself well hydrated so you’ll have enough water circulating in your system (but not so much that you feel overfull or will have to keep stopping for restroom breaks).
- Drink an average of a cup of liquid every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Water will be fine for short exercise periods, especially if you’ve eaten enough in advance. For exercise lasting more than an hour, you may want to keep your energy up with sports drinks or juice mixed with water.
- If you will be exercising again in the next 24 hours, eat some carbohydrate-rich foods within a half hour of your workout.
- If you will be exercising again in a day or two, make sure to keep lots of carbohydrates in your diet to keep your glucose gas tank full.
See the section in this feature on “Specific foods” for more details on what to eat.
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