What you choose to fuel your body with is important, especially pre and post workout. When it comes to fitness people want to get the most out of their workouts. I mean, who wants to constantly workout without making any progress? No one! One way to make sure you're getting the most out of your workout routine is by knowing the right foods to eat pre and post workout.
Many people don't know how to properly fuel their bodies before or after a workout so they choose the easy route and take supplements as their pre and post workout recovery. Although supplements are a great option for those who have trouble reaching their daily nutrient goals, they shouldn't be heavily relied on. You should focus on eating foods that are filled with the essential nutrients your body needs to function properly and get you through daily activities and training sessions.
A balanced and healthy diet is the key to maximizing the benefits of all your hard work at the gym. Keep on reading for tips about what to eat before and after a workout for sustainable energy and recovery in order to get better results.
The importance of eating before your workout
Carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for your body. So if you haven't eaten any foods, specifically carbs, your body will be running on E(mpty). This can lead to feeling dizzy, nauseous, and lethargic which can have a negative impact on your performance, thus reducing your gains or other results you're hoping for.
Unfortunately everyone works out at different times, some might not have the time or even desire to eat before a workout. That's okay because everybody works differently, some are able to crush their workout without needing to eat beforehand. In fact, there has been an increase in popularity of practicing intermittent fasting and working out in the early A.M. on an empty stomach. Some like working out without eating anything beforehand in order to switch your body's fuel source from carbohydrates to fat, thus maximizing fat loss. But this is mostly common when doing a cardio session.
Ideally you should fuel up before your workout, especially those strength training for muscle growth. But at the end of the day it depends on what works for you. Some can get through their lifting or cardio session with little to no food, others need to eat something to have a productive workout. It's all about figuring out what works better for you and your goals.
How and what to eat before working out
You don't want to have a full stomach before strenuous physical activity, but you don't want to be hungry either. Hunger can lead to decreased performance, but eating a large meal can also make you feel nauseous and sluggish which can lead to decreased performance. To avoid this, follow this middle ground: Eat a pre-workout meal that is nutritious, small and light.
So when do you have this pre-workout snack? The ideal time is between 30 minutes to three hours before working out, that way your body has already digested the food you've eaten, but hasn't yet used up all those helpful calories.
Before your workout:
1. Drink plenty of water!
2. Stick to easily digestible carbs, like complex carbohydrates, and easily digestible proteins, like low-fat yogurt, lean turkey, nuts, or eggs.
3. Avoid saturated fats and keep healthy protein to a minimum, especially if you're limited on time. These types of foods take longer to digest and take away oxygen and energy-delivering blood from your muscles. 
What you decide to eat depends on how much time you have. Here are a few pre-workout snack and meal ideas:
- Snack: An apple or banana with peanut butter
- Snack: Fat-free or low-fat yogurt topped with fruit and sliced almonds
- Snack: Whole-wheat toast topped with a nut butter and 1/2 of a sliced banana
- Snack: A smoothie with a banana, spinach, mixed berries, low-fat milk (or dairy free), and protein powder (optional)
- Meal: Oatmeal topped with a sliced banana and cinnamon
- Meal: 4-5 ounces of lean chicken, meat, or fish with brown rice and a side of sautéed vegetables
- Meal: Sandwich on whole-wheat bread with lean turkey and a side salad
- Meal: 2 scrambled eggs or omelet with half a sliced avocado and whole-grain toast
The importance of eating after your workout
Eating the right pre-workout food is important to fuel your workouts, and eating the right post-workout foods is important for your body to recover from strenuous training sessions. To understand why, you have to understand how your body is affected by exercise.
Your muscles use up their glycogen stores for fuel when working out, this results in your muscles being partially depleted of glycogen. After your workout, your body tries to rebuild its glycogen stores and repair and regrow the muscle proteins that are broken down and damaged during your workout. So eating a nutritious post-workout meal or snack will help your body recover and restore glycogen stores.
How and what to eat after working out
Many people weight training to build muscle have this immediate reaction of having a protein shake or protein bar as soon as they are done with their session. They do this because the time period immediately after your workout is when your body is most efficient at using the protein you eat to build new muscle, aka muscle protein synthesis. Although this is true, you don't need to eat immediately after training. Ideally, for those who are fatigued after an intense workout, you want to eat an hour or so after exercise. If your training is moderate (between an hour or less) you can have a post-workout snack or meal within a few hours of your workout.
After your workout:
1. Drink plenty of water to rehydrate!
2. Eat within an hour or so (depending on the workout intensity).
3. Focus on eating healthy carbs and lean proteins to help recover, repair, and grow muscles.
If you haven't eaten much earlier in the day, have a post-workout meal with some type of protein like chicken, meat, or fish, and starch or green leafy vegetables. For those who have eaten enough throughout the day and prefer a snack, keep it between 100-300 calories. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a snack with 10-15 grams of protein and 20-30 grams of carbs. Go higher on the carbs after intense cardio, and go higher on the protein after a weight lifting session.
Here are a few snack and meal ideas for refueling your body after working out:
- Snack: Whole wheat toast w/ peanut butter and a banana
- Snack: Two hard boiled eggs and a side of carrots and hummus
- Snack: Cottage cheese or greek yogurt topped with fruit
- Snack: A smoothie filled with veggies and fruit of your choice, protein powder is optional
- Meal: Whole wheat toast topped with avocado and a fried or scrambled egg
- Meal: An omelet filled with veggies and 1/2 cup of potatoes
- Meal: A whole wheat pita stuffed with lean turkey slices, grilled veggies, and hummus
- Meal: 4 ounces of chicken, fish, or meat with a baked sweet potato and sautéed vegetables
The bottomline is that you want to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to give your body the energy for training and to recover from it, and supplement only when absolutely necessary! I hope this helps you make better pre and post workout decisions to make all the hard work you're putting in with my workouts worthwhile 😉
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