Do you actively think about what you should be eating before and after a workout? If you are like most people, you do not and that is a mistake. Why? Your body needs a certain kind of nutrition in each stage of an exercise workout. In this article, we discuss in detail about what to eat both before and after a workout and why those types of foods are best at both ends of an exercise session.
Before Working Out
As part of your routine of preparing for a workout, your food should mainly consist of both simple and complex carbohydrates in addition to lean protein, healthy fats and fluids. As far as carbs, the simple ones which consist mainly of sugars, digest quicker to give you the quick energy you need at the beginning of your workout. The complex variety, along with fats and proteins, digest slower and provide a more stable blood sugar level to give you enough energy to carry you though to the end of your workout. Recommended foods eaten before a workout to give you the energy you need in the beginning include:
Make your own from yogurt or a milk either dairy or plant-based, such as almond or soy. Add in some fresh fruit and either oatmeal or granola to increase the consistency if you want. Otherwise thicken it up by adding ice cubes before blending.
Greek yogurt and trail mix
Much like a smoothie, the dried fruit in the trail mix provides the energy you need at the beginning while the nuts and seeds help toward the end of your workout.
Whole wheat toast topped with peanut butter and sliced bananas
The fruit in this pre-workout combo gives you the quick energy you need while the toast and peanut butter digest more slowly. For a little kick, add a dash or two of cinnamon. Not only does it add flavor, but it is proven to stabilize blood sugar, so you don’t get the “sugar crash”.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread
It is hard to go wrong with a PBJ sandwich. The peanut butter has the protein, the bread the complex carbs and the jelly the quick-digesting simple carbs. If you are prone to cramping, throw on a sliced banana on top of the jelly to boost the potassium. And it doesn’t need refrigeration!
Oatmeal with fresh fruit and walnuts
Oatmeal and walnuts take longer to digest while the fruit gives you almost instant energy. The walnuts also have Omega-3 which is a protein so your muscles can get a jump on repair and rebuilding as soon as you are finished exercising. If you don’t have fresh fruit, drizzle a little honey on it instead for some natural sweetness and a quick boost of energy.
Apple wedges and almond butter
Here again, the fresh fruit gives you the boost you need in the beginning, while the almond butter carries the load until the end.
Fruit salad on quinoa with sliced avocado
The sugar in the fresh fruit provides the quick energy while the quinoa helps level out the blood sugar to prevent spiking. The avocado provides the healthy fat and helps prevent inflammation in the muscles.
Multi-grain crackers with hummus
Spread about 3 tablespoons of hummus on 10 crackers for a great on-the-go snack. You can even make little sandwiches out of them by using two crackers and some filling. As an alternate to hummus, you can use guacamole.
Which is right for you?
One school of thought suggests you should exercise on an empty stomach because you burn more calories and hence more fat. However, studies have proven that you’ll burn about the same number of calories regardless if you eat beforehand or not. The difference is if you don’t have enough spare calories to burn in your kidneys and liver, as is the case if you exercise right away in the morning, your body could end up taking it from your muscles causing a loss of muscle mass which is never good.
After Working Out
Once finished with your workout, your focus should be eating complex carbohydrates, protein and a little healthy fat – the unsaturated kind within the “window of opportunity” 30 minutes to an hour after exercising. Why is the window of opportunity important? Because after an hour post-workout, the body’s ability to replenish the glycogen in the muscles decreases by 50%. Not only does this delay the repairing and rebuilding of the damage done to your muscles from exercising, but you will not have the energy necessary to keep your metabolism burning at it high level for hours afterward – called afterburn. The complex carbs help replenish the glycogen that was used up during the workout while the protein helps the muscles start healing the micro tears that happened and help grow them larger. Don’t go overboard on the protein; 10 to 20 grams is enough. The healthy fat helps break down the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, that are chocked full of antioxidants. Foods that work well post-workout include:
One banana, a scoop of protein powder and some almond milk makes a great post-workout snack. Add in a few ice cubes to thicken and get it cold.
Grilled chicken and mix vegetables
Spread some heart-friendly olive oil on the chicken and veggies before grilling to add in some flavor and color to the meat.
Veggie omelet with avocado
Eggs are one of the best natural sources of protein for your muscles. The avocado of course is your source of unsaturated fat.
Grilled salmon with sweet potato
In this case, the fish provides the much-needed unsaturated fat and the complex carbs comes from the sweet potato.
Tuna fish on whole wheat toast
Whole grain provides the complex carbs while the tuna is a good source of complex carbs and healthy fat. Instead of using mayo on the bread, spread a thin layer of hummus and a few leaves of spinach. Be sure to buy the canned tuna packed in water instead of oil. That way you won’t lose the omega-3s as they are an oil and will not mix (and get thrown out) with the water as they would if packed in oil.
No, not take-out, delivery or even one you buy in the store. This one is made at home on a whole wheat crust with a little buffalo wing sauce, topped with fresh vegetables and a chopped up grilled chicken breast. The beauty of it is it only takes 15 minutes from start to finish and gives you around 55 grams of protein along with 10 grams of fiber.
Burrito and Beans
If you like Hispanic cuisine, try a burrito filled with a ½ cup of black beans, ½ cup of brown rice and 2 tablespoons of guacamole, rolled and topped with a little salsa. Fiber, complex carbs and a healthy fat all rolled into one!
This drink hit the newer post-workout crowd by storm (or should we say again, as the older body-builders have used this trick for a long time). In the past, water or a sports drink was the liquid of choice after a workout, but where else can you replace the carbs, calcium, sodium, sugar and water lost during your workout in one glass, along with the getting the protein your muscles need in recovery. Chocolate milk is perhaps the perfect post-workout drink. It falls in line with the research results from Central Washington University that found at carb-to-protein ratio of 4:1 as being the perfect combination for post-workout muscle recovery.
During a Workout
So far, we have covered in great detail how to eat before and after a workout, but what should you be doing during a workout? If you are working out over 60 minutes, you can lose up to 2% of your bodyweight in fluids which affects your performance. To prevent this, drink 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes during your workout. For endurance workouts lasting over 90 minutes, consume some simple carbs along the way, like a sports gel pack, banana or one ounce of dried fruit along with alternating between water and a sports drink to keep your fluid levels up. These are only a small number of the food combinations you can make and eat both before and after a workout. With a little creativeness, you can create your own delicious and nutritious pre- and post-workout meals.
In most cases for exercise workouts lasting less than an hour, the best hydration is just plain water. Make sure you start your exercise program hydrated by drinking at least two 8-ounce glasses of water about two hours before starting your exercise workout. Keep drinking enough water to replace what you lost about every 15 minutes. Rehydrate with another two glasses or so after your workout. If you work out for over an hour, or in hot humid conditions, then you might benefit from a sports drink as it can help replenish lost electrolytes and fluid. A good one should have around 14 to 15 grams of carbohydrate in 8 ounces. Sodium should be around 110 milligrams with potassium at 30 milligrams. The sodium and potassium get these two electrolyte level back up where they belong and prevent muscle cramping.
Eating right before and after a workout not only improves your performance, but also help you recover faster. Carbs (both simple and complex), protein and healthy fats all play a role in not only getting you ready for a workout, but refueling you afterwards and starting the recovery process. Eating the right foods “does a body good.”