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Fuel Your Workouts

Here's what to eat and drink before, during, and after your workout to optimize performance and boost your immune system.

What you put into your body before and after a workout may be as important as the kind of exercise you do. Research has shown that if you're not properly fueled, vigorous exercise can compromise your immune system rather than boost it—by breaking down muscles instead of building them up and by depleting your body of essential nutrients. Here's a simple plan to optimize your performance.

Before You Exercise: Power Up

What to eat

To avoid cramps or nausea, have your last full meal three to four hours before exercising. Then, an hour before you work out, eat a small snack—100 to 200 calories—that's predominantly carbohydrates. Carbs are key, says Wendy Bazilian, Dr.P.H., R.D., coauthor of The SuperFoodsRx Diet, because "they go into the bloodstream faster than protein or fat." Good choices: half a banana, a handful of grapes, a piece of toast with some jam.

What to drink

To ward off dehydration, drink 8 to 16 ounces of water within an hour of working out.

During Your Workout: Avoid a Crash

What to eat

Exercising for an hour or less? You probably don't need to eat during your workout—you have enough glucose in your blood and glycogen stored in your muscles, says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. A boost if you need one: a 100-calorie, high-carb snack, such as half an energy bar.

What to drink

Bazilian recommends 6 to 8 ounces of water for every 15 minutes of exercise. If you end up exercising more than an hour, try downing a sports drink such as Gatorade or Powerade.

After You Exercise: Build Muscle

What to eat

Your post-workout snack (100 to 150 calories) should include protein for muscle repair and recovery. Jackie Buell, Ph.D., R.D., director of sports nutrition at Ohio State University, says the recommended ratio of carbohydrates to protein is about 3 to 1. Some good after-workout snacks: low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit, apple slices with low-fat peanut butter, or half a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread.

What to drink

Start with 16 to 24 ounces of water. "You want to be rehydrated within an hour," says Gerbstadt.

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