Nutrition Month: Frequently Asked Questions

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water-bottleThere are a ton of supplements and exercise-related nutrition do’s and don’ts out there. Which ones should you follow and which ones should you avoid? Here are some frequently asked questions:

1. What should I eat before I exercise?

Try to be done eating your big meal 2 hours before an exercise session. This gives it some time to digest and settle. When we eat, a lot of our blood to go our GI system to break down the food but when we’re exercising we need that blood to go to our working muscles. If you eat a huge meal before exercise, the blood is diverted to the muscles and you will just feel your food sitting like a giant rock in your stomach.

Feeling peckish closer to exercise? Have a small snack like a granola bar or a piece of toast. The simple carbs will give you energy but won’t sit in your stomach. Overtime, you will learn what timing and amount of food is optimal for you.

2. What should I drink during my workout?

Water! Our body has enough fuel (glycogen) for a 60-90 minute exercise session. If you are exercising within that window, water is all you need. If you are doing lots of intense exercise bouts over a couple days (ie. A sports tournament) you might need to drink a sports drink during the later part of the tournament because your body may not have time to fully restore glycogen levels. Learn more about sports hydration here.

3. What do I eat after a workout?

In an ideal world, your next meal would be within the hour after you are done exercise. If you are doing a regular workout then a normal, balanced meal should be all you need for adequate recovery. If you can’t get a meal in during the hour, chocolate milk or anything that has some carb and some protein is a great alternative. Learn more about ideal recovery meals.

What’s so special about chocolate milk? It has a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 3:1 and this is the optimal ratio for carbohydrate uptake. The important part here is actually the restoring of the glycogen levels and not the protein for recovery.

4. Do you need those powders?

There are tons and tons of powders out there (pre-workout, BCAAs, creatine, whey protein) but do they really make a difference? The research is mixed and a lot of other studies have shown that there can be a lot of extras in the supplements. Generally, if you aren’t training at a high level for performance, skip the supplements and focus on staying hydrated and eating a balanced diet.

5. What is the difference between the supplements?

If you walk into a sports supplements store you will probably see a lot of whey protein isolate, creatine, and BCAAs. Everyone and their mother seems to take these but do they actually do anything?

Creatine is naturally found in muscle and is part of our phospho-creatine energy system. This system provides us with a quick burst of energy (10-20 seconds) before our other energy systems kick in. Supplementing with creatine only really helps if you are training for high intensity, short duration competitive events (think Usain Bolt or Andre De Grasse). If you aren’t training at that level you probably don’t need to add creatine powder to your routine.

Protein supplements come in many different forms and protein post-workout can be helpful in helping with recovery. As previously mentioned, a well-balanced protein-rich meal post-workout is probably all you need but having protein powder on hand can make it easy if you’re out for the day and can’t get a full meal in. Protein supplements have NOT been shown to be better than protein-rich foods. The most common forms you will likely see is whey concentrate or whey isolate (isolate means there are no non-protein components: fat, carb, lactose).

BCAAs, or branched chain amino acids, are three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. There has been lots of research to see if BCAAs can help to improve recovery by reducing exercise-induced damage while improving muscle-protein synthesis. This area is not conclusive yet and there isn’t strong evidence one way or another that BCAAs can help you.

If you have specific questions about your nutritional needs, a dietitian can tailor a plan specific to you and your lifestyle.

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