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3 new studies reveal that the right foods at the right time may improve results.

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Getting a great workout goes beyond the number of reps you do or the miles you log on the treadmill. “The food you put into your body before and after you exercise can do a lot to either help or hurt your fitness,” says Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D., director of sports nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. In fact, three new studies reveal that the right eats (enjoyed at the right time) can help increase your fat burn, boost your strength and curb post-workout pain.

Torch more fat with breakfast. Breakfast can give you a much-needed energy boost to start your day. But when it comes to shedding pounds, it may be smarter to push your morning meal to after your workout, according to a study in the Journal of Physiology. During the six-week study, participants who ate a high-cal, high-fat breakfast before hitting the gym packed on an average of three pounds. The after-workout eaters? They gained almost no weight—although they ate the same breakfast. Exercise elevates levels of the fat-burning hormone adrenalin, says lead researcher Karen Van Proeyen, Ph.D. But when you work out after eating, the insulin your body releases to help you digest the food blunts the spike in adrenalin. Result: You burn less fat. Can’t push through with a growling belly? “Try splitting your breakfast,” suggests Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh. “Have a 4-ounce yogurt before your workout and have whole-grain toast with peanut butter and a banana afterward.”

Pump up your muscles with protein. Consuming about 20 grams of protein post-workout may increase muscle building regardless of age, suggests a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (Previous research has shown that age may impair the body’s ability to digest and absorb protein.) Two eggs and a glass of milk (20 grams protein) hit this protein sweet spot.

Quell post-workout pain with cherries. Think sore muscles post-workout are a given? Maybe not. British researchers found that people who drank 1 ounce of concentrated cherry juice twice daily for 10 days bounced back faster from their workout (an intensive leg-resistance training session on day 8) than those who skipped the juice. The reason: The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in tart cherries—and other fruit juices like grape, pomegranate, acai, blueberry and cranberry—essentially act as natural NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin), reducing exercise-induced muscle damage.


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