This is a post I wrote that first appeared on Robyn’s blog!
Let’s chat a little bit about the importance of fueling our bodies for activity and exercise, and making sure we get enough to be able to sustain an active lifestyle. Because we don’t just want to exercise once or twice, right? We want it to be part of our healthy lifestyle, consistently. We all know that exercise is good for so many reasons – it makes us feel good, it provides an outlet for stress, it enables us to form friendships and socialize with others, we can set and achieve goals, get stronger, lose weight, reduce cardiovascular disease risk – etc. etc.
BUT, we need to be aware that exercise, or an increase in exercise, usually means we need to consume more nutrients and more food to support this exercise. Over-exercising and undereating are problematic in and of themselves, but together, it’s a problem waiting to happen! Let’s keep it simple – exercise is stressful. Depriving our bodies of food and nutrients is stressful. It’s a double whammy when we do BOTH.
Despite its positive effects, exercise does cause inflammation in our bodies. The more we exercise, the more stress we put on our bodies (source). Exercise also depletes our nutrient stores (think vitamins, minerals, electrolytes), and the only way to replenish them is to include more of them in our diet, which either means eating more often or eating more at meals and snacks.
Example 1: If you’re still hungry after dinner and dessert #1, maybe you didn’t eat enough at dinner or throughout the day. Eat another snack with some protein and fat. Example 2: It’s 9 am, and you ate breakfast an hour ago, but you can’t make it until your morning snack – eat an extra snack. These don’t just apply to days you exercise – rest days are often the most important times to fuel our muscles so they recover properly. Don’t ignore your hunger signs – remember, our bodies are burning through tons of calories just living and breathing, and when you add exercise into the equation, we’re going above and beyond that. Food fuels exercise. We need enough food (think nutrients) and water to give our bodies the energy to exercise, and to prevent injuries, burnout, hormonal imbalances and just overall exhaustion.
Eating more might sometimes mean less veggies and more chocolate chip cookies or an extra slice of birthday cake with friends. That just might be what your body needs!
But if you eat too many of those foods too often, your body won’t feel good and it’ll probably show in your exercise. And then your body will tell you it needs more nutrient-dense foods that can replenish those vitamins and electrolytes that have been depleted.
Let’s say you usually eat three meals and two-three snacks a day, and you’re exercising about 30-45 minutes 3-4 days a week. You need to be eating more than the girl next to you who’s not exercising at all. Try adding an extra starch to your meals, or add another snack or two in throughout the day (something with carbs and fat/protein – I like a piece of fruit with nut butter, nuts/seeds, or greek yogurt with toppings). Add in a pre and/or post workout snack. It doesn’t have to be super big, but give your body those nutrients to use and manufacture into energy to allow you to exercise and recover.
After working out, we should be aiming for a 3:1-4:1 ratio of carbs to protein (focus on quality over quantity). There’s a 30 minute opportunity where our muscles are primed to take up the glucose they need and protein to help them rebuild and repair. They worked hard – they’re starving, so feed them! Simpler sugars will give more instant energy, but for more sustained, steadier energy, aim for complex carbs, like sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, oats, squash, buckwheat, spelt, whole grains are all good choices. Choose high quality proteins like eggs, lentils, beans, soy, lean meats, fish, dairy, nuts/seeds. Make sure your meals and snacks are all balanced with healthy fats too – like coconut oil, nuts, seeds, eggs, flax, avocado, olives.
Bottom line: If you’re hungry, listen to those cues and feed your body.
If you can’t seem to shake your appetite, make sure you’re eating enough fat and protein alongside your carbs. Drink lots of water. Don’t let yourself get too hungry or go too long without eating. Focus on quality. Do all of these things and your active body will thank you.
Are you hungrier when you exercise more?