In last weekend's Food & Wine section of the SF Chronicle, 3/21/10, there was an article, Ready, Set, Eat,
about how to properly fuel your body, pre- & post-exercise. It discusses how important it is to eat before and after exercising, and that many people don't do it!
People say they can't eat before a workout or that they just wake up and go. Afterwards, they shower and head off to work. Evening exercisers go straight from work (i.e., before dinner) after not having eaten for 4-5 hours. Whatever reasons people have for not eating before and after exercising, your body will pay you back for it, in a variety of ways. You might feel unfocused, forget things, feel lethargic, light-headed, tired, sore etc. Even worse, later, you might feel starving and overeat!
Our bodies need fuel to burn off in exercise, so it's important to eat a high-carb (read: high energy) snack of 100-200 calories before exercising. Otherwise, your body will burn what it has that it can convert easily to energy: muscle. No, not fat. Fat burns slowly, not during intense exercise. Your body needs easily digestible carbs before you work out, like a banana, yogurt, bread, etc.
Within 30 minutes of exercising, your body needs refueling to replenish what it has lost in exercise. Within 30 minutes! That's very soon after a workout! You need a good, nutritionally balanced meal afterwards. If you don't have time for a meal, try a banana sliced the long way and stuffed with peanut butter. Smoothies with added protein are another good snack option. Cottage cheese with pretzels is also good. Greek yogurt with granola and berries is quick and easy.
Many women don't eat enough protein, despite its importance in building and repairing muscle tissues. Some easy options are low-fat cottage cheese, a handful of nuts, small quantities of peanut butter, and Greek yogurt. However, read the labels because Greek yogurt varies considerably in its protein content and added fillers. Get the one with the most protein and the fewest ingredients.
Another problem is dehydration; people forget to drink a big glass of water after exercising. Water is the best because it doesn't have sugar, caffeine, calories or other added ingredients. However, you can kill two birds wtih one stone if you make a homemade smoothie with added protein. It's fast-food-and-drink-in-one for people in a hurry. Do consider it a meal replacement because it has enough calories to be considered a meal, and do make it at home, so you know exactly what's in it.
The articles states, "if you're trying to lose weight, don't try to cut calories - especially carbs - around exercise times." Control your calorie intake throughout the rest of the day instead.
The final word is: EAT! Your body needs fuel before and after exercise.