May 17th, 2012
12:14 PM ET

What to eat and drink when you exercise

"Diet and exercise" is a phrase that goes hand-in-hand with losing weight. But what you eat or drink before, during and after your workout is key to the weight loss process.

Whether you run marathons, bike to work or walk around your neighborhood a few times a week - if you really want to optimize your workout, it’s time to check in on your diet.

It’s all about moderation and balancing your food groups: protein and carbs, fruits and veggies, experts say.

So how do they all work together?

Before a workout, it’s all about the carbs, said Carol Kelly, a dietitian at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “Carbohydrate is the fuel for our bodies, fuel for our brains.  If you think of your metabolism as a fire, carbohydrate is the fuel that helps the fire burn hot.”

You want a meal that includes quality carbohydrates, lean protein, heart-healthy fats and fluids.  Without a sufficient carb supply, you could be breaking down muscle when you exercise.

If you’re working out in the afternoon or after work, you want to make sure to eat a balanced lunch with some carbs. Here are a few options:

  • A turkey sandwich with a piece of fruit
  • Whole grain pasta with low-fat tomato sauce
  • A salad with grilled chicken

Now, if you’re working out first thing in the morning for an hour or less, breakfast can wait until after your workout. That’s because the body usually stores enough glycogen (the body’s long-term energy storage molecules)  from the previous night’s dinner to fuel the workout.

After exercise, refueling (a.k.a. breakfast) needs to happen within 30 to 40 minutes. That meal should look like a combination of carbohydrates and protein, but not too much protein: 10 to 20 grams, or a palm-sized piece of chicken, is enough.

You can try some of these combinations:

  • Greek yogurt and an apple
  • Hummus and whole grain crackers
  • Grilled chicken and a baked potato

“With exercise, our bodies are constantly breaking down and need to be repaired and protein helps do that,” Kelly said.

But there are still free radicals” floating around in our bodies after we work out, one of the few negative effects of exercise.  These are molecules which are produced when the body breaks down cells and can cause cell damage.  The best solution to rid our bodies of free radicals is to eat lots of fruit and vegetables which help mop up damage that occurs during exercise. A salad, a piece of fruit, mushrooms, onions, even salsa — all are good plant options to fit in throughout the day, according to Kelly.

If you do work out more than 60 minutes each day, you’re going to have to up your carb and protein intake. And definitely don’t delay breakfast if you’re working out  that long first thing in the morning. You’re going to need some fuel to keep you going, whether it’s some yogurt and toast or cereal with milk.

You can also sip on a sports drink while you work out. Some sports beverages get a bad rap for the sugar some of them contain, but for intense workouts that last longer than an hour, they do the trick.  Stick to drinks that have a 6-to-8% solution of carbohydrates and electrolytes to help you hit your workout goal.

For those of us who aren’t competing in a triathlon just yet, plain old H2O has everything you need to stay hydrated during your workout –and during the day.

The important thing is to get moving first and then work your diet around your exercise routine.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. mmmm bravo

    pleasde make breakfast lunch and dinner menues for a later segment throught summer or post a website w space to share recipies thank you

    May 18, 2012 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Amy

    i would not consider a salad with grilled chicken a "balanced lunch with carbs," but rather a "balanced lunch with protein!"

    May 18, 2012 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marie

      I agree, and it doesn't sound great for the breakfast they suggested either.

      May 21, 2012 at 18:59 | Report abuse |
  3. GiGi Eats Celebrities

    My favorite "refuel" meal is definitely egg whites and butternut squash mixed together. Absolutely delicious.

    May 20, 2012 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rodrigo

      Many thanks. You've used the UTC in ectlaxy the right way. It is absolutely supposed to be a final checklist to ensure the app provides a consistent user experience. As for the screenflow diagram, it can be uploaded as a jpeg or gif, but there's no way currently of uploading more than one. This is a very good point, and one we will look at to make sure that diagrams needing more than one page can be uploaded. Your comments about 3rd party testing are interesting, as all 3 Java Verified test houses test against all devices listed on the Java Verified website. We will contact you directly to find out more about your experience with the test houses, as presumably you didn't end up getting your app Java Verified-approved for some reason? Thanks again. Very valuable.

      August 4, 2012 at 03:37 | Report abuse |
  4. Mallory

    I like to eat pasta the night before a track meet!

    May 21, 2012 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. MedFast Urgent Care

    We deal with a lot of these same issues at our urgent care palm bay locations and give many of the same advice. If you just eat healthier, cut down on sugar, etc - you can avoid many of the large problems.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. jtrailroad

    people have the right to eat,drink ansd excersise when the want to. we are a nation of free people and i dont the goverment telling me what i can eaat,drink or sdo!

    May 23, 2012 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • samuraikatana1

      And that has anything to do with this article why?

      June 22, 2012 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
    • Nova

      We are also a nation that has education, please utilize it because your grammar and spelling is terrible.

      October 2, 2012 at 15:05 | Report abuse |
  7. Weight loss?

    The first sentence in the article is, "'Diet and exercise' is a phrase that goes hand-in-hand with losing weight."

    The assumption in most articles on diet seems to be that everyone needs to lose weight. That assumption is incorrect.

    It would be nice of some articles on diet considered those of us who are not overweight; we do exist!

    May 23, 2012 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. JoJo

    Good article!

    June 13, 2012 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Roger Tharpe

    Water and Protein are important keys to building muscle which aids in fat metabolism.


    June 25, 2012 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. James Smith

    Hi, I thought this was a nice blog. Apreciate you sharing.


    June 14, 2014 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.