Over the years, students have asked me various questions about what they should eat before or after a workout. First, please note that I’m not a nutritionist, so I defer to those professionals for more in-depth advice. But coming out of a recent fitness convention, I wanted to pass along a few thoughts from one of the workshops I took.
When it comes to working out, you need to fuel your body before and after, and maybe even during. Yes, I said “during.” This can get a lot more complex than this, but in a nutshell…
Eat a snack or meal about an hour before working out. Focus on carbs and a small amount of protein. A granola bar, an apple, a bagel, etc. (Many of you have seen me munching on a Clif bar if you get to class early enough…) Your body can’t run on empty. If there’s nothing to burn in your stomach, your body will start to break down lean muscle tissue rather than fat.
If you’re working out for an hour or less, you don’t need to interrupt your workout to eat. Depending on what you’re doing, you may even be able to go longer. But if you’re exercising at a high intensity for two hours or more, your body needs to refuel. If it doesn’t, as I over-simplistically noted above, you may be damaging your own muscle tissue. You know how distance runners carry those funky looking food gels and other liquified or condensed caloric products to keep them going on the road? Yes, dancing is different in many ways, but most of our cardio programs generate serious calorie burn. And as our schedule has expanded over the years, students now have the option to take two, sometimes even three classes in a row. I love that all of you designate time in your day to dance with us; I’m even more honored that some of you occasionally devote two or three hours in one night! But if you’re doing full-out cardio dancing for two or more hours, you need to replenish some of those calories as you go. A piece of fruit or one of those gel things is fine — it doesn’t have to be much. But don’t wait until you get home, by then so starving that you want to eat everything. When I’m in that state, I end up with a stomachache no matter what I settle on. It’s like my stomach’s payback for neglecting it.
Whatever duration of your workout, you need to refuel within two hours afterward. If you’re trying to lose weight, you have to ultimately consume fewer calories than you burn, so I’m not even going to address that scenario. But if you’re just maintaining what your body needs, you need to replace the extra calories you’ve burned. So even if you think it’s weird to eat when you get home from a class that ended at 9 p.m., do it anyway. I promise it won’t keep you awake or mess with your digestive process, but rather the opposite. Again, for less intense classes like ballet, belly dance or even striptease, this may not apply. But your stomach is your best indicator. If it’s growling for food, eat something! And if you’re not hungry but you just did an hour or more of intense exercise, eat a little something anyway.