Did you know that eating right helps reach fitness goals faster?

Working out is strenuous. Fitness programmes include aerobic exercises like brisk walking/cycling/rowing to increase stamina and training with weights to build and strengthen muscles; stretching exercises further improve blood circulation and elasticity of muscle joints. Research shows and experience proves that getting your nutrition right both before and after the workout is equally important.

The legendary fitness expert Jack Lalanne put this in perspective with his famous quote: “If exercise is your king, nutrition is your queen. Together, they create your fitness kingdom.”

Feeding your body well before the workout ensures that it has all the right nutrients to power you through; the post-workout meal provides precious nutrients to repair and replenish the body.

Feeling weak or tired after a workout or having unusually sore muscles the next day is a clear indication that your body is not getting the right fuel at the right time in relation to your workout. These four rules keep you on the correct path of fitness.

Rule 1: Never head to the gym on an empty stomach

When your “gas tank” is empty, blood glucose levels are low. The body then starts breaking down protein in the muscles to get energy instead of burning extra fat.

To tap into those dreaded fat stores, eat something nutritious before you exercise. But don’t have a big meal.

Have a light snack of about 300 calories about an hour before the workout. Combine foods that provide both carbs and protein. This will maintain a steady level of blood sugar during the workout.

Avoid simple sugars and sweets such as honey, candy, or soda immediately; they send blood sugar shooting down leading to an energy crash in the middle of the workout. Because fat takes longer to digest and you don’t want a heavy feeling in your middle while exercising, keep it to a minimum.

Make sure you have the snack at least one hour before the workout.

Rule 2: Keep yourself well-hydrated before, during and after the workout

Exercising can leave you dehydrated. As heart rate and body temperature rise, sweat cools the body; the more you sweat the more fluids you lose. Even slight dehydration can make you feel bloated and fatigued.

Begin by drinking at least two glasses of water about an hour before the workout. Then, whether you feel thirsty or not, take breaks during the workout and drink half a glass of water every 10-15 minutes. When the workout ends, rehydrate immediately! Water — with lemon and salt if you like — is the best choice. Remember, juices and sodas are loaded with sugar! Avoid! Sports drinks are popular substitutes but they are also expensive and calorie-rich.

Rule 3: What you eat after the workout is even more important than what you eat before

After a workout, the body is ready to soak up all nutrients that come its way. Eating a meal within the golden hour — within 30 minutes or at the most one hour after the workout — is important. But, do not eat fat and fatty foods. Why? Because fat delays release of proteins and carbs into the blood and keeps them unavailable for the repair process.

So, what should you eat? Two things: proteins and carbohydrates (and of course, lots of water). Proteins repair muscle tissue and carbs restore muscle glycogen as well as help in protein synthesis. Eating a light snack that combines proteins and carbs in the ratio of 1:2 within half to one hour of the workout quickly replaces lost fuel and rebuilds your body.

Good protein sources include low fat milk and milk products (curd, paneer, cheese); all pulses especially soybeans (as beans, milk, and tofu); nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts, pistachio nuts); peanut butter and seeds (melon, pumpkin, sunflower) as well as peas and beans. Experts recommend a protein powder (usually whey protein, which is easily digested and absorbed) mixed with milk/fruit juice/water/yoghurt as an ideal snack after a workout.

Rule 4: Eat balanced meals five times a day

To achieve the best results from exercise, consume a healthy, well-balanced diet all through the day! Frequent, small meals keep your energy level high and your hunger at bay.

Do not even think of skipping meals; self-deprivation leads to overeating later. Do not diet: You can't work out, train, or compete well on a low-carbohydrate, low-calorie diet.

Smart choices

Pre-workout

Slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter and an orange

Boiled egg and a handful of raisins

High-fibre cereal (muesli) with skim milk and half an apple

Yoghurt/curd with a bunch of grapes

Dalia or oatmeal with skim milk and nuts

Sprout salad with half a boiled potato

Post workout

An apple with a couple of cubes of low-fat cheese or paneer

Dried fruits (dates/monacca/figs/raisins) and nuts

Low-fat yogurt with fruit

Whole wheat/multi-grain bread with chicken/paneer filling

Peanut brittle (patti or chikki) or gur with roasted chana

A parantha roll with sabzi or a stuffed parantha