Fitness Fuel: What to Eat Before, During & After Your Workout
You’ve just finished wrapping up a fantastic workout and you know you need to eat something to make the most of your efforts. But what should you eat?
Well, I know workout nutrition can seem like a daunting and somewhat complicated process, but it doesn’t have to be.
That’s why I’ve outlined the latest on how to fuel your body before, during and after your workout so you can improve your performance, maximize recovery - and feel better!
Fuel your machine
You’d never head out on a long road trip without filling your tank with gas, right?!
Skipping your pre- workout fuel is the equivalent of hitting the road with an empty gas tank. You may get off to a good start, but you’ll likely be running on fumes in no time.
However, when you dedicate some time to fill up your body’s gas tank with the right nutrients before your workout, you’ll be able to lift more, run longer & faster, and speed up your gains. Plus you’ll feel like a champion while doing it!
But, What Should I Eat Pre-workout?
Since our body’s preferred energy source is carbohydrates, your pre-workout fuel should be higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein and fat.
This is because protein and fat require a bit more energy for our body to breakdown and digest, and this can take up valuable energy that could best be used toward our workout.
You should aim to eat about an hour before your workout to give your body time to digest and absorb the nutrients.
Here are a few Pre-Workout options that work well for pre-strength or pre-cardio workouts:
Wholegrain rice cake with 1 Tbsp nut butter
Small apple and a handful of raw nuts (or nut butter)
½ cup of plain oatmeal with berries
So, What About Sports Drinks or Water?
For your workout; just plain water will do the trick. Based on your degree of exertion and sweat, experts recommend drinking between 3-8 oz of water every 15 minutes during your session.
Now, unless you’re exercising for 90-minutes or longer (and/or in extreme temperatures), you can hold off on guzzling sports drinks.
Although sports drinks can help replace carbohydrates and electrolytes lost during an intense exercise, they aren’t beneficial for the average, non-athlete gym goer.
But, if you’re dead-set on having a water alternative, why not skip the sugary, neon-blue commercial sports drink all together and just whip up a concoction of your own for those days when you have longer, sweatier workouts?
Just pretend you’re MacGyver and grab your favorite water bottle, add about ½ cup pure orange juice, top with filtered water and add a pinch of sea salt or pink salt, and you’ve got a DIY electrolyte replacement drink with no artificial colors, additives or preservatives, and for a fraction of the cost! ;-)
What to Eat after a Cardio Session
It is still recommended that you eat your post-cardio snack 30-60 minutes after finishing up.
However, you’ll be using more carbohydrate stores during a sweaty cardio workout (think running, spinning, Tabata or other high intensity interval training) than you would during your lifting session.
This is why you’ll need to eat a snack or meal that is 3:1 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio - similar to your pre-workout ratio.
Try one of these snacks after your next cardio workout to replenish your carbohydrate stores (glycogen) used and to help you recover faster:
Sprouted grain toast and nut butter
5-10 whole grain crackers & 2 Tbsp hummus or bean dip
Small banana and a small handful of raw nuts or seeds
What to Eat After Strength Training or Lifting Weights
Once you’ve finished pressing out that last rep, pat yourself on the back and then fuel up with some protein!
Here is where you should aim to eat within 30-60 minutes after your workout to help with your body’s recovery and to build those muscles you’ve been working so hard for. This meal should be approximately a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates.
Here are a few examples of a balanced “post-lifting” meal:
Grilled chicken breast with roasted vegetables
2 hard boiled eggs and whole grain crackers
You’ll also love this great recovery smoothie - made with quality protein, fiber and the anti-inflammatory benefits of tart cherries!
RECIPE: Very Cherry Recovery Smoothie
1 cup of non-dairy milk of choice
1 scoop vanilla protein powder of choice (unsweetened, less processed)
1 handful of fresh or frozen tart cherries (frozen will have a thicker consistency)
1-2 tbsp of chia seeds or hemp hearts
1 handful of greens (spinach or baby kale work well here)
2-3 ice cubes (more if you’ve used fresh cherries)
Blend all the ingredients together for 1-2 minutes, drink up, and watch those muscles grow!
My Verdict on Fueling Up For Fitness
Just remember; skipping your pre- workout fuel is the equivalent of hitting the road with an empty gas tank. You may get off to a good start, but you’ll likely be running on fumes in no time.
While the same “empty gas tank” principle applies to workout nutrition, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it probably seems.
Basically, when you fuel your body with the right nutrients before your workout, you’ll be able to lift more, run longer & faster, better your performance, and increase your gains.
So, don’t get lost in the choices or conflicting information… Follow the guidelines I’ve laid out for you in this post on how to fuel your body before, during & after your workout and you’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll look and feel with just these few tweaks to your nutrition.
LiveStrong: Post Workout Carb-Protein Ratio
The Washington Post: The Best Way To Eat Before & After Exercise