Preparing for Your Workout

by Cindy Haines, M.D. Health Professional

OK, so I've convinced you. It is time to get up and get moving. You have your cool new workout outfit, your fancy new specialty workout shoes. In fact, all your new gear is lined up and ready to go. Now you are ready to get moving...aren't you?

Not so fast. A little prep work goes a long way.

People often ask me: "How can I lose weight?" or "What is the best (or quickest) way to get in shape?" A question I do not hear as frequently (and one that is just as important and relevant in your fitness journey) is: "How can I best prepare to get the most out of my workout(s)?"

The answer to this question is, of course, a very individualized response which depends on a multitude of factors such as: the physical profile of the person asking (how old they are, what their general health is, etc.), the workout they have planned, the level of fitness already attained and the amount of experience with the sports activity planned.

And while most know all about the importance of the proper warm-up and cool-down, here are some other, perhaps lesser known, tips for getting the most out of your workout:

Athlete Tested/Doctor Approved

Getting the OK from your doctor is an important first step when embarking on a new (or ramped-up) fitness routine. Give 'em a call and set up that physical exam you may not have had in a while. And while you are at it, talk to your doc about your anticipated fitness regimen. He or she knows your health status (and knows you) and may very well have some additional tips for you and your very individual health and fitness situation.

Mind over Matter

Once you have all the appropriate gear and you get the all-clear, psychologically preparing for the new challenge(s) can be a very effective next step. This often includes recalling your purpose for embarking on this road in the first place, visualizing your goals and picturing your desired outcomes. This is a vital part of the workout routine for many of today's most successful athletes.

Fueling Up

Some swear by the right combination of nutrients at very specific timeframes pre- and post-workout while others do not eat at all pre- and may even feel physically and/or mentally unable to eat post- as well. So, what to do?

Either of the above is probably just fine. If you are an average exerciser and work out a few times per week, you really don't need to be as concerned about post-exercise foods because your body will have enough time between workouts to recover. Pre-exercise foods become of more importance if you are not following a balanced diet and are not taking in enough calories at regular intervals throughout the day. You may risk bouts of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or you may be more fatigued and not get the most out of your workout.

But let's get a little more specific:

If you are going to eat before your workout, it is generally wise to do so about 30 to 60 minutes prior. The ideal pre-workout meal is small and composed of complex carbohydrates. Examples include half of a whole grain bagel or a piece of fruit.

After your workout, wait about 15 - 60 minutes to eat. At this point, lean protein and complex carbohydrate-rich foods are helpful in replacing depleted glycogen stores in the muscles. Protein also helps repair muscles. A few slices of turkey with some whole grain crackers or a glass of low fat milk with a piece of fruit would both be perfect options.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

And you've heard it before but this really is important enough to hear again and again:

Water is essential for optimal physical performance and overall functioning. Make sure that you are keeping yourself adequately hydrated before, during, and after your workout-even if you don't feel particularly thirsty. Drink up and drink often.

Now, just do it.

Cindy Haines, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
Cindy Haines, M.D.

Cindy Haines, M.D., wrote about diet and exercise for HealthCentral.