Besides showing up at the gym, knowing exactly what to do to optimize your workouts before and after a session will make all the difference when it comes to meeting your fitness goals.
What you put into your body is what you’ll get out, but getting enough rest and tweaking your sessions can have an enormous impact on your body’s ability to build muscle and burn fat, too.
Here are eight ways you can get the most out of your workouts, according to professionals.
1. Fuel Up Before Lifting Weights
While doing cardio on an empty stomach burns fat and decreases insulin sensitivity, you should fuel up before beginning a more intense session, like lifting weights.
Experts recommend eating around 30 grams of carbs pre-workout so that you won’t get tired halfway. For workouts that require more energy, you can try eating whole-grain pancakes a few hours before your workout, or bananas, oats, or a fruit smoothie half an hour beforehand.
Another great way to fuel up before a workout is with a fast-acting, specially formulated pre-workout protein shake – check it out here.
2. Run on Empty
A good strategy for burning fat is to hit the treadmill or going cycling shortly after waking up. This way you have an empty stomach, so your body is already in a calorie deficit. When you do cardio after you wake up, it boosts your body’s fat-burning ability.
This works because your body’s levels of glycogen are low upon waking – so your body will utilize fat stores as a source of energy.
3. Stay Away from Sugary Sports Drinks
Although you may feel like you need a sugar-dense sports drink after exercise, the truth is that they often have more calories than what you’ve just burned.
Avoid sugary sports drinks unless you’ve had an elevated heart rate for over an hour. The common misconception about these drinks is that you need them after a workout to rehydrate, but if you’re working out in milder temperatures or for less than an hour, they are unnecessary. Rather stick to water.
4. Refuel Post-Workout
When it comes to achieving your fitness goals, taking care of your post-workout nutrition is as crucial as your workout. Pre-and post-workout meals are the most important part of your day.
Eating correctly after a workout replenishes glycogen levels, decreases protein breakdown, and increases protein syntheses –essential for building muscle.
In fact, when you’ve just completed your workout, your body uses protein more efficiently. Experts recommend eating around 10 to 20 grams of protein after a workout – try an egg-white omelet or some Greek yogurt after resistance-training exercises for maximum effect.
5. Don’t Overeat
Basal metabolic functions – things from your heart beating to your hair growing – require 70 to 75 percent of the calories we consume every day. So, it makes sense that exerting extra energy at the gym causes exercise-induced hunger. When this happens, we tend to overcompensate with calories that we don’t need.
When you feel the post-workout belly rumbles, don’t increase your caloric intake by more than 20 to 30 percent of what you burned. We tend to overeat after a workout because we forget that our bodies would have burned most of those calories while performing basic functions, anyway.
6. Don’t Overdo the Cardio
While doing cardio on the treadmill or exercise bike is a good way to burn extra calories, not all cardio workouts are created equal. Staying on the treadmill or bike for too long can actually begin to eat away at our lean muscle mass.
Over time, less lean muscle mass causes a slowed metabolism, which makes it even harder to lose weight and burn fat.
Experts recommend combining cardio with high-intensity training programs because studies have shown that people who combine cardio with high-intensity training burn fat twice as fast as those doing moderate-intensity cardio only.
7. Take Time for Recovery
Rest and recovery are just as important as working out. If you don’t give your body enough time to heal between workouts, your body will begin to pump more cortisol – a stress hormone that can cause your body to store more fat.
You don’t have to take two-day breaks after each session, just be mindful about varying your workouts so that you aren’t working the same muscles on consecutive days.
Try working your upper body one day, then your lower body the next, or alternate between lighter workouts like yoga between high-intensity training.
8. Break a Sweat
If you want to see a change in your body, the simple truth is you need to break a sweat and challenge yourself. Lifting weights is the best way to boost your metabolism, sustain long-term muscle growth, and stay trim and lean.
The trick is to vary your reps and increase the amount you’re lifting. And the same principle applies to cardio, too. Turn up the speed and resistance constantly to make sure you’re challenging your muscles every time you work out.