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Go ahead, pour yourself a mug before hitting the gym. Along with helping you wake up, that cup of joe can help make your workout feel more fun. According to Australian researchers, people who downed the caffeine equivalent of about two cups of coffee prior to exercise reported that their workouts felt easier—and were more enjoyable—than those who went caffeine-free. What's more, the caffeinated group ate 18% less at lunchtime.
Experts say that a pre-workout coffee can help boost your exercise motivation and help you stick with your routine. But don't overdo it—it's not an excuse to order a venti latte or double espresso before spin class. "Stick with your usual amount," says Linzy Unger, RD, a dietitian with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. If you're not a coffee or tea drinker, the caffeine can lead to a racing heart or upset stomach.
Your body turns these slowly digested carbs into glucose, its main source of fuel. "The fiber in whole oats provides a steady supply of energy," says Unger. The result: You're able to work out longer and stronger. Unger suggests pairing carbs with protein, such as oatmeal with fruit and nuts or a piece of whole wheat toast with nut butter, about an hour beforehand. Exercising within 30 minutes? Your may need to swap in easier-to-digest refined carbs, such as white toast, says Unger.
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"Nuts contain protein, which your body uses to build muscle," says Unger. Almonds also deliver healthy fats and the amino acid arginine, which may improve blood flow throughout the body during your workout. In fact, a study published in theInternational Journal of Sports Nutritionshowed that cyclists who snacked on almonds biked farther—and burned more calories—than those who ate an equivalent amount of cookies.
During a tough workout, you create tiny tears in your muscles. For the hour post-exercise, your muscles are primed to use protein to rebuild the tissue, says Cording. But it's tough to snack on a steak or chicken breast after a run. With 22 grams of protein per cup, Greek yogurt is an ideal treat: Toss a container in your gym bag or scoop some of the creamy stuff into a smoothie.
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