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fuel evening workouts: fit man nighttime run

The Best Way To Fuel Evening Workouts

Hitting the gym after the sun has gone down is a great way to avoid gym crowds, dissolve any stress that accumulated throughout the workday, and squeeze in a sweat-drenched dose of socializing. However, there’s one part of evening workouts that many people struggle with: fuel. Indeed, many people who work out at night aren’t sure what to eat before hitting the gym. After all, the window between going hard and going to bed isn’t a big one.

Ahead, sports nutritionists explain why fueling evening workouts is a must and share their tips for putting together a pre-workout meal that’ll support your performance without upsetting your stomach or interfering with your sleep.  

Yes, You Need To Fuel Your Evening Workouts

In case you’re tempted to skimp on pre-workout eats later in the day, know that no matter what time of day you exercise, you should power up with food, according to sports dietitian Emily Fultz, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., of Fit with Food. Morning or night, “without adequate intake before a workout, your muscles will not have enough fuel to perform optimally,” she says. 

Read More: Proof That Building Muscle Is A Must For Long-Term Health

In fact, it’s especially important that you do fuel your workout adequately if you exercise at the end of the day, says sports dietitian Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D., author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook. By the time the evening hits, you’ve already used up all your energy stores for work and other daily activities, so if you fail to replenish those stores with a pre-workout meal you face an increased risk for poor performance, lightheadedness, and other not-so-ideal issues.

7 Rules For Fueling Evening Workouts

To perform and sleep well, evening exercisers need proper amounts of the right kinds of fuel—and nothing that could leave them staring at the ceiling when they should be snoozing. Keep these guidelines in mind for best results.

1. Eat The Right Amount, At The Right Time

Pre-workout eats adhere to the Goldilocks principle: Consume too much food ahead of the gym and you risk tummy sickness, but consume too little and you’ll underperform. Consume just the right amount of food, however, and you’ll have a workout unfettered by indigestion or fatigue. 

As a general rule, if you have two to three hours until you hit the gym, go ahead and eat a full-blown meal, suggests Goodson. This gives your body enough time to digest and for your blood glucose levels to normalize. So, if you prefer to wait to work out until later in the evening, go ahead and have dinner before getting to it. Your performance will thank you.

That said, if you have fewer than two hours before training, a hearty snack between 200 and 300 calories is the move, Goodson says. 

2. Follow the Rule Of Thirds

As for what to eat before nighttime workouts? That’s another important part of the story. To keep your dinner from disrupting your workout, Goodson recommends following the rule of thirds. “Make one-third of your plate whole grains, one-third some lean protein, and the final third some easily digestible vegetables,” she says. 

While the complex carbohydrates in whole grains provide your body with the energy it needs to power through your routine, protein kick-starts muscle protein synthesis, the process through which the body repairs exercise-induced damage, she explains. Finally, the nutrients from the veggies support overall health and well-being. 

3. Avoid Too Much Fat or Fiber

Though your body absolutely needs both fat and fiber, eating them in large amounts right before your workout will likely result in GI distress, says Fultz. And, if you exercise at night, that discomfort could carry over and negatively impact your sleep.

Read More: 10 Possible Reasons Why You’re Suddenly So Bloated

“While you’ll feel okay if you consume a little bit of healthy, unsaturated fats from an avocado, peanut butter, or egg ahead of exercising, if you consume saturated fat in the form of bacon, fried chicken, or fries, you’ll likely feel lethargic,” says Goodson. Similarly, while a little bit of fiber before a workout is fine, harder-to-digest veggies, in particular, can cause problems. Avoid cruciferous vegetables; they contain lots of fiber and a gas-causing sugar called raffinose, which make them a pre-workout digestive double whammy, she says. 

4. Stay Away From Spice

Your taste buds may wish for otherwise, but bland is better when it comes to pre-workout eats. “Spicy, garlicky foods are prone to causing digestive issues,” says Goodson. Most spicy foods contain a compound called capsaicin, which slows down digestion and causes food to sit in the stomach longer. Plus, spice can irritate the esophagus and mouth, which can lead to heartburn and create an unfavorable chain reaction, she says. Not only can that make your workout downright miserable, but it could make it pretty tough to sleep comfortably if it hangs around through bedtime.Healthy Awards Secret Code Banner: EVENINGWORKOUTS

5. Re-think your pre-workout supplement

Morning and midday movers may wax poetic about pre-workout supplements, but if you’re exercising in the evening, take a beat before downing that drink. “Most pre-workout supplements contain a lot of caffeine,” says Goodson. Specifically, they pack in more caffeine than your body will be able to metabolize before you hit the hay, leaving you unable to fall asleep after you’ve left the gym and climbed into bed. Considering you produce the highest quantities of the hormones that support muscle recovery during sleep, you definitely want to avoid this, she says. 

If you need an extra jolt of energy before your workout, Fultz recommends getting it by eating some fast-acting, simple carbs—such as fresh or dried fruit, pretzels, or a piece of toast—30 to 60 minutes before you get moving.

Of course, if you still want to incorporate some supplemental support into your pre-workout routine, you’ve got plenty of options. Try one of these stimulant-free workout supplements, which include everything from creatine and nitric oxide boosters like l-citrulline and beetroot, to beta-alanine and muscle-loving BCAAs

6. Hydrate All Day 

If you plan to hit the gym later in the day, make sure you’re sipping H20 all day long. “If you don’t consume enough fluid throughout the day, you’re likely to end up dehydrated by the time your workout rolls around,” says Goodson. Not only can being dehydrated can make you feel pretty crummy, but it also negatively impacts your performance at the gym. In fact, just a two percent reduction in body weight from dehydration can negatively impact performance, according to research published in the ACSM Health & Fitness Journal. 

Your move: Aim to consume at least 64 ounces of water per day, plus an additional 10 to 12 ounces for every 30 minutes that you exercise, Goodson suggests. By spreading your intake out throughout the day, you’ll avoid the unpleasant sensation of water splish-splashing inside your guts while you exercise. If you struggle to guzzle water, adding a hydration supplement to your sips can help ensure you get the most out of every drop. 

7. Eat (Appropriately) Afterward, Too

Even if you eat a whole meal before you work out, you’ll still want to squeeze some food in afterward, as well. Jumping into bed right from the gym without eating will halt your recovery from your workout, which ultimately undermines its benefits, suggests Fultz. 

“If you want to get the most out of your evening workout, you need to refuel with carbs and protein afterward,” says Fultz. Ideally, you’ll chow down on 15 to 25 grams of protein and 30 to 50 grams of carbohydrates. These macronutrients, she explains, work together to kick-start the muscle-repair process and replenish glycogen stores—and this amount hits the sweet spot of providing enough nutrition to promote recovery without leaving you too stuffed to settle down for sleep.  

A few good options to try here: yogurt and granola, oatmeal with protein powder mixed in, half a turkey sandwich, and a simple shake made with protein powder and milk.

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