Whether you faithfully workout 5 days a week at the gym or you’ve just stocked up on some equipment to start your at home workouts a couple of times a week, what you eat before and after your workouts is important and will affect your goals and progress.
Not eating enough before working out can hinder your performance and leave you feeling dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, and tired. Failing to fuel back up after a workout can leave your body unable to properly recover, cause extreme fatigue, and possibly low blood sugar. So what should you eat before and after your workouts?
Carbohydrates supply your muscles with glucose, which is the fuel they need to stay strong while powering you through your workout.
Now, before you reach for a bowl of pre-workout pasta, it’s important to remember that not all carbs are ideal before a workout. You want to choose carbs that are easy to digest, otherwise you’ll end up weighed down with an upset stomach. Below are some examples of healthy pre workout carbs:
Bananas are full of healthy carbohydrates and potassium, which support nerve and muscle function. Their easy to digest carbs won’t weigh you down and are also a great option if you’re short on time and only have a few minutes to spare before working out.
Oats are packed with fiber and gradually release carbohydrates. This slow release helps to keep your energy levels consistent throughout your workout, allowing you to train harder for a longer period of time. Oats also contain Vitamin B which helps convert carbs into energy. Steel Cut Oats are often a better choice as they are less processed than quick cooking and instant oats.
Not only are granola bars great for on the go, they’re simple to make yourself and you can customize them with healthy ingredients to your liking. Stick to wholesome carbs such as oats, seeds, dried fruit, and nut butter.
Consuming carbohydrates after your workout helps with recovery by replenishing the fuel in your muscles that you burned through during your workout. After exercise, your muscles are very efficient at soaking up nutrients, so again, it’s important to choose carbs that are easily digested and absorbed. Below are some examples of healthy post-workout carbs:
Sweet potatoes are a great source of carbs to include in your post-workout meal or snack. They have complex carbs and replenishing nutrients such as Vitamin C and potassium.
Fruit is packed with easily digestible carbohydrates as well as enzymes to help your body break down nutrients so that they can be delivered to your recovering muscles. Bananas, berries, dates, and grapefruit are great options as they are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, iron, calcium, and potassium.
Brown rice is a healthy source of post workout carbs that also contains B vitamins and fiber.
During strength training workouts, such as weight lifting, small tears form in your muscle fibers. Protein muscle synthesis is a process that naturally occurs in which protein is produced to repair these tears and muscle damage caused by exercise.
Consuming protein alone or paired with carbs before your workout can help to increase muscle protein synthesis. It has also been shown to increase muscle performance as well as increase muscle growth.
Similar to carbs, you want to make sure to consume easily digestible sources of protein so you don’t experience an upset stomach while powering through your workout. Below are some examples of healthy pre-workout sources of protein:
Hard Boiled Egg
The egg whites provide pre-workout protein that helps to improve muscle performance and recovery, while the yolks provide vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.
Greet yogurt is light enough to eat before a workout, filling, and gives you a decent amount of protein to help prevent muscle breakdown.
Protein pancakes are filling and packed with protein and healthy carbs like oatmeal.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are building blocks for the body. When you eat protein after your workout it gives your muscles the amino acids that are necessary to repair and rebuild. Muscle contractions that your muscle experiences from jumping, running, and other forms of exercise can break down and cause muscle damage. Consuming protein after your workout reverses this damage and builds muscle.
Not only are protein shakes quick and easy to grab and go after an intense workout, they can be customized to your liking and packed with wholesome ingredients to kick your recovery into high gear. They can be made with a quality whey or plant based protein along with fresh fruit for some carbs.
High quality lean meat such as chicken after a workout will enhance protein synthesis to repair your muscles and promote muscle growth.
Quinoa is packed with healthy carbs and plant based protein that works with your body for a speedy recovery post workout.
Your body needs water to function properly and it needs water more than ever before and after a workout. Staying hydrated ensures that your body temperature is regulated, your joints are lubricated, and nutrients are being carried throughout your body to give you energy and keep you healthy.
If you are not properly hydrated before your workout, your body will not perform at its best. Dehydration can lead to dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea, and dry mouth. It is also important to rehydrate after a workout because as you workout you lose water.
The amount of water you should drink daily may be different for each person, but generally it is recommended that you drink 8, 8 ounce glasses of water a day, which is equivalent to about 2 liters. You also may want to add in some extra water if you plan on a workout that day.
The timing of your pre workout meals or snacks is important and will determine what and how much you should eat. If you are able to time your meal 2-3 hours before you exercise, a complete meal containing carbs, protein and healthy fat will maximize the results of your workout. Below are some healthy pre workout meal ideas:
- Grilled chicken, broccoli, and rice
- Ground turkey, sweet potatoes, and veggies
- Salmon, rice and veggies
- Chicken, whole wheat pasta, and veggies
Sometimes finding the time to eat a full meal 2-3 hours before a workout may seem impossible, especially if you workout in the mornings shortly after waking up. In this case when you’re only able to spare 30 minutes or so before your workout it is still important to make sure you are at least consuming a healthy snack with carbs and protein:
Your body’s ability to rebuild and repair your muscles is enhanced after your workout so it is recommended that you consume your post workout meal or snack within 45 minutes of finishing your workout. This meal or snack should also be a healthy combination of carbs and protein.
What you eat before and after your workouts matters and will affect your performance and recovery. Shoot for a healthy combination of carbs and protein that are easily digestible.
Along with proper pre- and post-workout nutrition, staying hydrated is also essential if you want to get the most out of your workout and recovery. It is suggested that you at least consume 8, 8 ounce glasses of water per day to stay adequately hydrated.
When deciding on the best pre-workout meal or snack, timing is everything. If you are able to plan 2-3 hours before your workout, a full meal with carbs, protein and healthy fat is preferred to maximize your performance. If you are only able to spare 30 minutes or so, it is still important to consume a healthy snack with carbs or protein so that you can have the energy to get through your workout.
You want to try to time your post-workout meal or snack no later than 45 minutes after your workout to optimize recovery.
It is important to remember that these are general guidelines and your workout intensity, duration, specific activity, and personal health will affect your pre- and post-workout meal and snack options.
Free Resource: Download the Winning Week Meal Planning Worksheet to plan your pre- and post-workout meals and snacks.