5 Ways Nutrition Can Improve Your Exercise
By Chris Zinn
I had a friend in college who would devote enormous amounts of time and energy to working out at the rec center. I mean, he would plan out workouts, watch videos before going to the gym to hype himself up, constantly discover new ways to exercise, etc.
Because of his dedication to his workouts, he made some great progress in the gym. He got a little stronger, a little leaner, and felt a little better about himself.
He seemed like a natural in the gym, too. He mastered the movements fairly quickly, had great form, and didn’t worry about lifting a certain amount of weight just to say that he could.
Seems like he's doing everything right, doesn't it?
The only problem...he would come home from the gym and order a pizza and crack a beer; which turned into several beers. After drinking, he would inevitably eat late into the night. The next morning, he would eat a terrible breakfast.
As you can probably tell, he generally didn't care what he put into his body.
Now, I'd be lying if I said I have never gone home after a workout, ordered a pizza, and cracked a beer myself. However, that is different from developing a habit of eating that way.
In my friend's case, it was not a bad day of eating or a bad week. This was the norm.
Fortunately, he eventually came to the point when he decided to take his diet as seriously as he took his training. From there, his results in both the mirror and the gym started to take off!
You see, nutrition and exercise complement each other. Like peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, or macaroni and cheese - you could have one without the other, but they're just way better together!
Nutrition and exercise can both change the quality of your life, but when they are paired together they can accomplish wonders.
That's why - while it is important to exercise - it's just as important to use nutrition to support your exercise goals so that you can make efficient and effective progress.
With that in mind, let's talk about 5 major roles nutrition plays in supporting your exercise routine.
1. Fueling Your Workouts
Whether you’re lifting weights, running, or swimming you’re going to need energy for your workout. Your body needs fuel for exercise the same way your car needs gas to drive.
Without the right amount or the correct type of fuel, you won't get very far.
There are three main types of fuel that your body gets from food - carbohydrates, lipids (fats), and proteins.
Believe it or not, your body has preferences as to which fuel source it uses first. It prioritizes using carbohydrates as a fuel source before lipids, and lipids before protein.
Because your body prefers carbohydrates as its primary source of fuel, it will mainly use carbohydrates as its fuel source for exercise.
So, in most cases, if you’ve had some carbohydrates to eat during the day (like oatmeal or rice, for example), that should be enough to fuel your workout and keep you from feeling overly tired or burning out quickly.
Now, if you’re an athlete, you will probably want to be a little more specific with your nutrition.
Most of the day should consist of starchy, whole food sources of carbohydrates, lean protein, and fats.
For carbs during, or immediately before your workout, you want a faster-digesting option so that your body can use it for fuel ASAP. You can opt to use whole-food versions of fast-acting carbs such as a banana or baked white potato, or you can go for a shake that contains fast-acting carbohydrates.
2. Building Muscle
For many, one of the main goals of exercising is strength training to build muscle. To do that, you first need to break down the muscle fibers by stressing them during a workout, and then you need to rebuild them so they can repair and grow stronger.
However, if you don’t have the appropriate nutrition, how easy do you think the rebuilding part of that is going to be?
That would be like a construction crew renovating a building to rebuild it and make it bigger, but when half the demo is done someone says, “Yeah, we actually don’t have the appropriate materials we need to rebuild this so…”
Protein is the most important macronutrient when it comes to building muscle. So, one of the most important things to pair with your training is proper protein intake to ensure that you have the materials needed to repair damage and build muscle!
When you ingest protein, it is broken down by your body into amino acids. Amino acids are then used to build and repair tissues, help form hormones, and support the immune system.
Proteins are constantly being broken down into simple peptide chains of amino acids and then being rebuilt back into complex structures such as polypeptides, which are then used in various ways around the body.
To ensure you have the correct type and amount of amino acids, you need to consume a variety of proteins. This is because your body needs different types of amino acids.
Non-Essential Amino Acids
These are amino acids that your body can make on its own, so you don't need to get them from food or other outside sources. However, they still perform vital roles in the body, so the term "non-essential" only refers to the fact that you don't necessarily have to worry about them being in your diet.
Essential Amino Acids
These amino acids are not created by the body, so you need to consume them in your diet.
Both essential and non-essential amino acids play vital roles in the body, including synthesizing:
Skeletal connective tissue
Immune system chemicals
The best way to ensure you are consuming all of the necessary amino acids is to consume many different sources of protein.
A good shopping list for lean protein can include any of the following:
Beef, bison, and buffalo
Lean cuts of pork and boar
Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck)
Wild game (elk, venison)
Eggs and egg whites
Dairies such as cottage cheese and Greek yogurt
Beans and legumes
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame
Protein powder (whey, casein, egg, plant blends, bug protein, collagen, hemp)
Now you have an idea of where to get your protein from, but how much protein do you need?
Well, it depends on a lot of different factors, but for healthy, sedentary adults, 0.8 grams per kg of body mass should be enough.
This translates to:
55 grams of protein per day for a 150 lb person
72 grams of protein per day for a 200 lb person
Of course, that's for mostly sedentary people, but if you’re an athlete or you exercise multiple days a week you will most likely need more.
3. Staying Hydrated
Something that seems to get overlooked in the world of nutrition - especially the nutrition world that lives on social media - is fluid balance and fluid intake. This portion of your nutrition is extremely important for everyday function, as well as athletic performance.
Why is water so important to us?
Well, it does things like:
* Dissolve other substances
* Transport other substances
* Catalyze chemical reactions
* Lubricate and cushion tissues
* Regulate temperature
* Provide minerals
So, if your fluid intake is inadequate, you can imagine the problems you might run into.
By definition, dehydration means that you have more solute in your body (electrolytes like sodium and potassium) than we have water.
Unfortunately, you don’t usually notice you're thirsty until you have lost about 1-2% of our body water. At that point, you may already be dehydrated, and your performance may have already taken a hit.
Dehydration can affect performance by decreasing your body’s ability to produce power and speed. Your muscular endurance can be affected negatively as well.
This is why it’s important to ensure you are hydrated both before and during exercise, and that you are replenishing electrolytes as needed after exercise.
4. Exercise Supplements
This tends to be a controversial subject. Some people swear by certain supplements, and some people think of them as nothing more than the supplement industry trying to steal your money.
As always, it’s probably somewhere in the middle.
Of course, some products are completely hyped up to be much more than they are. I would even venture to say most products fit this description. But there are supplements out there that work, depending on who you are and what needs you have.
Protein powder is one of the most common supplements out there. Many people claim that these powders are useless and a waste of money, but there are PLENTY of uses for these powders.
Maybe someone is looking to eat more protein in their diet so they can build more muscle, but they don’t have enough time to get all of it through whole foods. In this case, protein powder becomes very useful and in the long run, makes it much easier to hit their goal of building muscle.
Even some "mass gainer" powders, which are just protein powders with simple carbs, lots of proteins, and fats are useful for some people. Some people have a hard time putting on weight and they work 10-hour shifts in a factory. A shake that has a good chunk of their calories in it is going to make it much easier to hit their goal of gaining weight.
Creatine is the most studied sports supplement of all time. The reason is: it works. Well… for some people.
The thing with creatine is that it usually either works very well for you, or it doesn’t do much of anything except upset your stomach. But this does not mean the supplement is a scam or a placebo for the people that claim extraordinary results from taking it.
The reason it is so 50/50 is because of how it works. Creatine is naturally found in your body, mainly in skeletal muscle tissue. If you happen to have higher levels of creatine being produced in your body naturally, then you aren’t going to benefit as much as someone who doesn’t produce much creatine naturally.
Creatine is also found in red meats, so a vegetarian with a lower natural creatine production will benefit much more than someone who has steak every day and has higher natural creatine production.
There are a lot of different ways you can supplement with electrolytes. There are various drinks, powders, chews, etc. They might not be suitable for everyone, but they do have their place.
You might not need electrolytes after a typical workout at the gym, but if you are an endurance runner, a football player, or an athlete, making sure you replenish electrolytes is crucial to avoiding dehydration.
One good way to replenish electrolytes is to take them with a diluted carbohydrate drink because carbohydrates will increase water retention in the body.
Taking electrolytes with a diluted carbohydrate drink can:
Improve how quickly fluid is absorbed
Increase blood glucose and glycogen synthesis
Enhance whole-body hydration and;
Improve muscle and liver glycogen synthesis
5. Post Exercise Nutrition
Your post-workout meal is just as important - if not more important - than your pre-workout nutrition.
The post-workout meal serves as not only an opportunity to nourish your muscles, but it also may be one of the largest determining factors in whether or not you are improving in your exercise.
The reason the post-workout nutrition is so important is because of what happens during the workout.
If you’re lifting weights, there are going to be a lot of micro-tears in your muscles from contracting your muscles against a load. For your muscles to grow after being broken down like this, you must consume the right foods within a certain window of time after your workout.
This should include mainly whole foods, consisting of carbs, protein, and fats: with an emphasis on protein. Protein will be broken down into smaller amino acid chains and then be pulled from the bloodstream to build and repair the damaged muscle tissue.
How big the meal is, and how many calories it consists of, depends on the goals you have.
If you want to lose weight your post-exercise meal should consist of mostly protein, with some carbs a few fats to ensure you get adequate protein intake and minimize the number of calories.
If you want to gain weight, your post-exercise nutrition should contain lots of protein with plenty of carbs and some fats, to increase the number of calories being ingested and keep protein intake high.
Nutrition PLUS Exercise = Success
So, the next time you think about going home from your workout and rewarding yourself with that pizza and beer, think about what your body really needs to recover from the workout and push you forward toward your goals.
Bad nutrition shouldn't be your reward for doing a good workout. Instead, make it your goal to place just as much attention on what you fuel your body with as you devote to what you're doing in your workout.
Match the two together, and you'll see your progress take off!
Want to find out more about how to craft an approach to eating that will fit in with your needs, goals, and lifestyle? You can get started today working with Med Gym's own Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Chris Zinn, in our Nutrition Coaching Program!
If you've tried diet after diet and struggled to reach your goals, nutrition coaching may be the answer you need. Working with a qualified nutrition coach to find, craft, and stick to the plan that is the right fit for you can be game-changing!
Contact us here to learn more about the nutrition coaching program and how you can get started.