Proper diet, thorough stretching needed for best workout results

Matt Hellman | Lariat PhotographerHouston freshman David Giraldi stretches after working out Monday in the Student Life Center.

By Molly Dunn

Eating the right food at the right time and properly preparing the muscles for a certain activity allows people to get the most out of their workout.

“The first step to improving the overall impact a workout has on the body is to eat a small meal,” Clint Patterson, fitness coordinator at the McLane Student Life Center, said. “Small meals help the body complete the workout by providing fuel for the muscles.”

“Before you go in to work out, you should eat something beforehand, probably just a light meal, about 30 minutes to an hour before you work out so you have something in your system,” Patterson said.“Whenever you go and workout, you’re going to push yourself, so you want to be energized.”

Protein and carbohydrates are the best food sources of energy for the body prior to a workout, Van Davis, assistant director for fitness and nutrition education at the McLane Student Life Center, said.

“About two hours before, maybe get some carbohydrates, a combination of carbs and protein. You want to have something that is easily digestible, not something that is going to be too heavy,” Davis said. “You want something like an egg, a protein shake.”

Not only do carbohydrates and protein work together to fuel the body, but the body needs fluids as well.

“You definitely want to stay hydrated,” Patterson said. “A good recommendation is to carry a water bottle with you and fill it up throughout the day. You for sure don’t want to do any workout, specifically cardio, if you’re not fully hydrated.”

In addition to eating a light meal packed with carbohydrates and protein, a proper warmup is necessary to prevent injury during a workout.

“You definitely want to respect your body,” Patterson said. “Just based off of resources, books and experience, some of the top forms of injuries caused during a workout are from bad form and no warm-up.”

Davis said that performing an active warm-up similar to the exercise about to be done is the best way to prepare the muscles to engage in physical activity.

“You want to mirror the activity that you’re actually going to be doing, but in a lighter form,” Davis said. For example, before a run, someone could warm up by walking, or before bench pressing, someone could do the same movement but with no weight or a small amount of weight.

“Warming up is going to be an activity that is going to increase the person’s core temperature and heart rate,” she said.

Davis added that static stretching, unlike an active warm-up, should mainly occur after a workout because stretching cold muscles can lead to injuries.

“When you pull a cold rubber band, it could snap. If your muscle is cold and you go ahead and stretch it, you could really injure yourself, so always warm up first,” Davis said.

Finally, it is crucial to cool down and replenish the body with protein, carbs and water within an hour after working out.

Patterson said that providing the body with proper nutrients and an adequate amount of sleep gives the body time to recover after exercising.

“During the workout, you tear your muscles up; you cause stress during the workout on your muscles,” Patterson said. “If you sleep well afterwards and eat well soon following your workout, that gives you time for the muscles to mend as well as to build them up.”

Anne Janine, who is certified in sports medicine and human performance and a contributor to — a website offering expert advice about nutrition, health and fitness — offered suggestions of healthy workout habits through an article with post workout food options.

“Choose whole foods, rather than supplements, to reap the benefits of not only carbohydrates and protein, but also essential vitamins and minerals,” Janine said.

Some of these post-workout meals include peanut butter and graham crackers or an egg with a glass of juice.

“As soon as you finish whatever you’re doing, the last 10 minutes of your workout should be spent static stretching on improving your flexibility,” Davis said. “That window of opportunity happens right after you finish your exercise.”

The McLane Student Life Center has fitness staff available to inform, educate and guide people as they work out in the fitness center.

“If you’re looking to start, they can guide you through the machines and proper form as well,” Patterson said.