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Eating and Exercise: A Delicate Dance

Should you eat before or after exercise? You don't want to have a full stomach when you work out, but you don't want to be hungry either.

You probably recall your mother’s emphatic warning to wait at least 30 minutes after eating before going into the water.

In this particular case, mother doesn’t know best. According to the American Red Cross, there is no specific time you must wait before heading into the water. Your biggest danger related to eating and swimming is probably a minor cramp.

The old adage, however, does pose an interesting question. Should you eat before and/or after you exercise and, if so, what and when?

 Remember that food is fuel and your body needs that fuel to exercise effectively as well as the right nutrients to help with recovery.

 As a general rule, you want to try to fill your tank up before and after working out.

 Consider the following guidelines for eating before and after exercise:

 • Timing is Important. Have a light meal about 60-90 minutes before exercise, comprised of a good balance of complex carbohydrates and some lean protein. (ie. an apple with some natural peanut butter or a light sandwich made with whole wheat bread and some turkey breast.) If you’re an early-morning exerciser, try a bowl of oatmeal with some fresh fruit and some scrambled egg whites.

 • Calories Count. Aim for about 300 calories – otherwise you might feel too full and uncomfortable while exercising. Your body can digest food while you’re active but it's a delicate dance. You don't want to lose too much of your energy to digestion.

 • Don’t Skip Meals. Skipping meals may cause low blood sugar, which can make you feel weak and lightheaded. The longer your exercise, the more important that last meal is for keeping your energy up.

 • Don’t Forget to Drink. To stay well hydrated, drink six to eight glasses of fluids daily, plus at least 4-10 additional ounces of water for every 15 minutes of exercise. Electrolytes – elements such as potassium, sodium and chlorine – are depleted when you sweat. If you don’t replace the fluid you lose during exercise, your heart rate increases and your temperature rises.

 • After Your Workout. Muscles need to recover and replace their food stores. The best things to eat after a workout are foods that are low in fat, high in lean protein and have a mix of simple and complex carbs.

 What and how much to eat varies from person to person. The way to learn how much and what to eat, is to experiment and see what works for you.

Laura McKellar is a health and fitness consultant and the owner of North Andover Curves, a 30-minute women's fitness center offering a total body workout. For more information about Curves, visit www.northandovercurves.com; or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CurvesNA

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