Mondays on the treadmill and exercises for the legs, Tuesdays for power yoga and lower back, Wednesdays for shoulders, arms and chest—the list goes on. If you are a regular at the gym, chances are that you spend a considerable amount of time planning your workouts. But do you do the same for the food you eat before or after a workout?

It is essential to have good energy levels for an effective workout session. A 2010 study by Canada’s McMaster University, Effect Of Glycogen Availability On Human Skeletal Muscle Protein Turnover During Exercise And Recovery, published in the Journal Of Applied Physiology, found that people following a low-carbohydrate diet had increased protein breakdown rates and reduced protein synthesis rates, resulting in less overall muscle growth. Simply put, exercising on an empty stomach may lead to muscle loss.

Planning pre- and post-workout nutrition is crucial to get the maximum benefit from exercise sessions. “Be it a high-intensity workout or a light aerobic gym session, our body loses minerals and nutrients during exercise through sweat, and even through the energy we use to burn calories. Therefore, we need to have foods rich in proteins and minerals to fuel our body for the workout and replenish the lost nutrients after it," says Kiran Sawhney, founder, owner and wellness trainer of New Delhi-based gym Fitnesolution.

The protein breakdown

Protein metabolism is affected by several factors like age and lifestyle. “Different activities require different snacks. If you are into high-endurance sport like soccer or basketball, you should have high-energy snacks with lots of proteins, but for long, intense sports, for which high endurance energy is needed, you need snacks with potassium, sodium and carbohydrate," says Sawhney.

Snacking on mangoes, bananas, grapes, grilled chicken breast, tuna fish sandwiches, oatmeal, muesli, hummus and soya milk can be good after high-energy sports like basketball and soccer, as these sports “deplete sugar and protein levels drastically", says New Delhi-based Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist and founder of Whole Foods India, a health-food chain.

Fruits and yogurt can be taken together or separately after activities that are for shorter duration (15-20 minutes), like kick-boxing and trampolining. “The same rule applies to gym workout sessions too. In a light aerobic workout, for instance, yogurt provides a good ratio of proteins to carbohydrates, and the protein in it helps keep the body energized. Fruits also have high amounts of water and healthy sugar," adds Sawhney.

Another option pre- and post-workout is supplements like whey-protein shakes for additional protein in the diet. Many such products claim to provide a balanced amount of proteins and carbohydrates, and may also contain supplemental vitamins and minerals. Although these products do not contain all the nutrients of natural foods, they may be useful adjuncts to a balanced diet. “Usually, protein supplements are not needed and diet alone should be able to make up for the protein needs, 0.8-1.5g/kg of the ideal body weight," says Khosla. “Avoid foods with trans fats and high sugar such as cookies, aerated drinks, and too much caffeine."

According to Prateek Kumar Gupta, consultant orthopaedic and sports surgeon, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, protein shakes and sports drinks should be avoided if one works out for 1-2 hours a day. “Our diet gives us enough proteins to sustain for a normal 1- to 2-hour workout. Sports drinks have more sugar than the body requires. The best option is to make your own drink with glucose, lemon, salt or brown sugar," he says. “Protein shakes are recommended for those people who train for 4-5 hours in a day, like athletes."

For ages, we have seen wrestlers and bodybuilders devouring bananas and eggs before and after their workout. “The banana is a bombshell of iron, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is a quick snack with multiple health benefits. Eggs are good for protein and vitamins; and all of this for minimum calories, if you are boiling the egg," says Khosla.

For vegetarians, milk and nuts can be a good substitute for eggs as energy snacks. “Milk is a high-protein drink with a lot of vitamins and minerals available to the body easily. Energy bars, nuts, roasted chana (chickpea) and seeds are all high-protein snacks—they are a combination of healthy omega-3 fatty acids which provide a good energy level before the workout," says Sawhney, adding, “The amount of snacks that should be taken depend on the individual and factors like height, age and the duration/intensity of workout."

Stay hydrated

Even though the balance of proteins and carbohydrates is important to achieve fitness goals, don’t neglect water. “For training sessions of less than 1 hour, water is the best beverage to consume after exercise. For training sessions exceeding 1 hour, it is advisable to consume a sports beverage containing carbohydrate and electrolyte. Alternatively, use home-made drinks like nimbu pani with a little addition of sugar and some salt; or coconut water," says Khosla.

PRE-WORKOUT SNACKS

u Banana: A bombshell of iron, vitamins, minerals,
antioxidants and energy

u Orange juice: A good high-energy and
vitamin C-rich drink

u Almonds: A high-protein snack with the right combination of omega-3 fatty acids

u Apple: A fruit high in healthy carbohydrates and fibre

u Milk: A high-protein drink with high amounts of
vitamins and minerals.

POST-WORKOUT SNACKS

u Egg: A good combination of protein and vitamins

u Yogurt: A good combination of proteins and carbohydrates. It helps rehydrate the body

u Energy bar: It contains high amounts of nuts and seeds to replenish the depleted levels of proteins, salts and minerals

u Roasted wholegrain: Soybeans, ‘bhuna chana’ (roasted chickpea), seeds and pulses are rich in carbohydrates, proteins and minerals

u Soya milk: A high-protein drink.

—Ishi Khosla and Kiran Sawhney

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