How Exercise Impacts Your Energy Levels (And What To Eat For Working Out)
When you’re completely exhausted, the last thing you want to do is lace up your shoes for a workout. But if you’re tired of being tired all the time, you may want to rethink the idea of getting more regular workouts.
Exercise is one of the most powerful tools we have for increasing our energy levels and you don’t need to do a lot to reap the benefits.
In fact, a University of Georgia study found that performing 20 minutes of low intensity exercise could decrease fatigue by up to 65%!
A physical activity as simple as walking, yoga or a leisurely bike ride (for only 20 minutes!) can do so much more for your energy than a cup of coffee or an energy drink ever could.
So how does exercise actually increase energy?
There’s a lot of amazing things going on in your body during a workout session. When you exercise, your body increases its production of serotonin, endorphins and dopamine - all of which are powerful mood boosters.
Dopamine, in particular, has been found to make us feel more alert and motivated. This is exactly why it pays to take that 20-minute walk during your lunch break instead of scrolling through your social media feeds.
In addition to releasing these helpful neurotransmitters, exercise has been found to help us sleep better.
When your body gets the rest it needs on a regular basis, you’ll have the energy to get through your busy day - and maybe even some to spare!
But, can exercise actually work against you?
While a regular sweat session is typically a great thing for your body, there are some circumstances where a workout can actually affect your energy in a negative way.
For those with especially busy schedules, this can be a challenge since it may be the only time of day they can fit in a workout.
However, consider moving your workout to the morning to increase your energy for the whole day. But if you simply can’t, try sticking to a lower intensity nighttime exercise routine so you can wind down when it’s time to sleep.
Too much of a good thing
Yes, you can get too much of a good thing. Exercising too much can actually have the opposite effect on your energy levels.
One study looked at the effects of over-exercising. Participants were put through a rigorous physical training regime for 10 days followed by 5 days of active recovery.
Not only did participants notice a decrease in performance, they also complained of extreme fatigue and difficulty sleeping.
So how much exercise is enough?
It is recommended by many healthy lifestyle experts to get approximately 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise each week to maintain good health. You’ll know you’re getting the right amount of exercise if you notice your energy levels are increasing.
If, after increasing your exercise efforts you’re (still) feeling lethargic or are having difficulty sleeping, there’s a good chance you may be overtraining or something else might be going on.
One more thing about Exercise & Energy - the food you eat also plays a huge role in your energy levels! In addition to getting regular exercise, be sure to fuel your body with whole foods throughout the day to keep your energy levels up and maintained.
Fitness Fuel: What to Eat Before, During & After Your Workout
Workout nutrition may seem rather complicated but it doesn’t have to be.
Here’s the latest on how to fuel your body before, during and after your workout so you can improve your performance, maximize recovery - and feel better!
Fuel your machine
You’d never head out on a long road trip without filling your tank with gas, right?!
Skipping your pre- workout fuel is the equivalent of hitting the road with an empty gas tank. You may get off to a good start, but you’ll likely be running on fumes in no time.
When you feed your body with the right nutrients before your workout, you’ll be able to lift more, run longer, faster and feel so much better doing it!
So, what should you be eating Pre-workout?
Since our body’s preferred energy source is carbohydrates, your pre-workout fuel should be higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein and fat.
Protein and fat are harder for our body to digest, and this uses up extra energy that we could be putting toward our workout.
Aim to eat about an hour before your workout to give your body time to digest and absorb the nutrients.
Here are a few Pre-Workout options that work well for pre-strength or pre-cardio workouts:
Wholegrain rice cake with 1 Tbsp nut butter
Small apple and a handful of raw nuts (or nut butter)
½ cup of plain oatmeal with berries
Sports Drinks or Water?
Just plain water will do the trick during your workout. Experts recommend drinking between 3-8 oz of water every 15 minutes during your workout session.
Also, you can hold off on the sports drinks unless you’re exercising for 90 minutes or longer, or are exercising in extreme heat. Sports drinks help to replace carbohydrates and electrolytes but are not necessary for the average gym goer. PLUS, they are FULL of sugar and strange color concoctions that we know are not good for you.
If you want to make up your own, healthier workout drink, just grab a ½ cup pure orange juice, top with filtered water and add a pinch of sea salt or pink salt. You’ve got a DIY electrolyte replacement drink for a fraction of the cost and infinitely healthier.
What to Eat after a Cardio Session
It is recommended that you eat your post-cardio snack 30-60 minutes after finishing up.
However, you’ll be using more carbohydrate stores during a sweaty cardio workout (think running or spinning) than you would during your lifting session.
This is why you’ll need to eat a snack or meal that is 3:1 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio - similar to your pre-workout ratio.
Try one of these snacks after your next cardio workout to replenish your carbohydrate stores (glycogen) used and to help you recover faster:
Sprouted grain toast and nut butter
5-10 whole grain crackers & 2 Tbsp hummus or bean dip
Small banana and a small handful of raw nuts or seeds
What to Eat After Strength Training or Lifting Weights
Aim to eat within 30-60 minutes post workout to help your body recovery and to build those muscles you’ve been working so hard for. This meal should be approximately a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates.
Here are a few examples of a balanced “post-lifting” meal:
Grilled chicken breast with roasted vegetables
2 hard boiled eggs and whole grain crackers
If you have been feeling too tired to hit the gym, too tired to cook healthy then we need to start there first. If you want to feel better and have more energy, then click the button below to watch webinar:
Tired All the Time? 5 Things That Sabotage Your Energy
Gaylene Gomez, NNCP, C.H.N.
A little bit about me! I'm Gaylene, a Holistic Nutrition Coach for women. I work with busy, professional women to help them learn about healthy, simple lifestyle changes they can easily implement to reduce belly bloat, lose weight and get through their day with sustained energy. My clients are committed to their health and excited to learn about healthy eating and natural living. I feel proud of them for taking charge of their health and I'm so lucky to work with these amazing women.
Learn more about me here: About Me
LiveStrong: Post Workout Carb-Protein Ratio
The Washington Post: The Best Way To Eat Before & After Exercise