Maximizing your workout: the readiness is all

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - There's working out, and then there's working out wisely.

Experts say when it comes to making the most of your exercise time, fitness favors the focused mind and the prepared body.

"Presence yourself in your workout. Prepare your internal environment" said Kerri O'Brien, director of the educational and training arm of Life Fitness, the fitness equipment manufacturer.

"If you walk in thinking, ‘Ok I just need to get from point A to point B and get it done,' that's not maximizing. You're not focusing on whether you're tightening the core or working the muscles," she said.

And because the strongest spirit falters if the flesh is weak, O'Brien says make sure you eat something, preferably a small carbohydrate snack, about 45 minutes before exercising, even if weight loss is your goal.

"Calories in, calories out is a great fundamental equation to work by, she said, "but are you familiar with the adage, ‘Fat burns in a carbohydrate flame?' If your body is in starvation mode when you start working out, it will hold back."

Post-workout she suggests something higher in protein.

"When you're working out you're actually breaking down muscle fibers," O'Brien said. "This is a good thing, because the body will repair the muscles to be stronger. That repairing requires protein."

And during the workout, you should be drinking, a lot.

"Core temperature is very important. You want to be able to work and keep your organs cool," she said. "It's the same thing with your car. If it overheats, you've got to pull over and let the heat dissipate."

Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, says most people live their lives partially dehydrated.

"If you just drink when you're thirsty, you're one per cent dehydrated," he said. "When you're two percent dehydrated, you start to compromise your performance."

Comana advises drinking seven to 10 ounces of water every 15 minutes during a workout. If the workout exceeds one hour, he suggests switching to a sports drink that contains electrolytes.

"I want exercisers to weigh themselves before and after. If you're two pounds lighter after a workout, you're dehydrated," he said, "your performance is compromised."

Comana also stresses the importance of warm-up exercises.

"In a perfect world, you would do a dynamic warm-up that prepares your entire body for the upcoming activity." He said for most people five to 10 minutes of walking or biking plus stretches should suffice.

"But older adults, who have less elasticity, might need 10 to 15 minutes," he cautions.  Music can really fire up a workout, according to Comana. "Tons of research shows that people who work out to music with a faster tempo will work harder. They'll push themselves and get more work done."

And just how hard should one push?  To find your ideal intensity level, Comana recommends a talk test.

"As you're exercising, look at the difficulty you have carrying on a conversation," he said. "If it's challenging-to-uncomfortable, that's probably a good intensity for you, a good place to start."

But be careful about doing too much.  "If you're completely winded, or just barely holding on," he said, "then you're just having a miserable time. And you won't hold on for very long."