Hey Angels and Alphas,
You know figuring out what to eat before and after workouts can be such a struggle. But you know what? It’s worth it.
When it comes to pre-workout snacks, what you consume will have a massive impact on your workout performance. And no, we’re not talking about pre-workout supplements. We’re talking about real, cooked (or prepared), delicious meals.
And when we’re talking about post-workout snacks, what you put in your mouth in the hours after your workout is done will have a drastic effect on your recovery. Giving yourself the proper refueling after you’ve exhausted yourself will help you get the right nutrients where they’re necessary.
This means being mindful and strategic about your pre and post-workout meals can help you maximize the benefits of both your hard work and your periods of rest. But when it comes to making the right food choice, everyone always asks questions like “what’s the best pre-workout snack?” or “what (and when) should I eat after I’m done lifting weights?”
Today, we’re going to answer both these questions (and more.) If you’re one of those people who has trouble sticking to (or even making) the right exercise-oriented food choices, this article will help you put the pieces together and take the next step moving forward.
To do this correctly, let’s start by going in-depth on the aspects of pre-workout nutrition.
What’s the purpose of a pre-workout meal?
The purpose of a pre-workout meal is to fuel your body and give you the energy you need to excel at your task. Naturally, eating before exercise will give you the best chance of making the most out of your training.
If you don’t eat before you work out, you risk workout dizziness, light-headedness, or even feeling nauseated. And even if you don’t have this experience, chances are going to the gym hungry will have you feeling sluggish and inefficient.
But let’s be real – sometimes, you just don’t have the time to fix up a pre- workout meal. Some people wouldn’t do it even if they had the time – they just don’t like it. If you’re one of those people who works out after a workday (kudos), you might even find it difficult to squeeze in a smack on your way to the gym.
The truth is, some people can get away with working out on an empty stomach. But that has a lot to do with the type of their workout and its intensity. But if you can’t manage to make a pre- workout snack (or you just don’t want to), you should expect lower strength, endurance, and performance.
Ideally, you should always try to fuel your body before doing any sort of physical activity.
To do that, your body needs an adequate amount of:
Carbs *are* energy. Carbs break down into glucose in our body, they enter our muscle cells, and they let us exert our maximal physical capacity. Your muscles store glucose (as glycogen) and usually access these reserves when you’re putting yourself to work.
Eating carbs before a workout guarantees that you’ll have the extra glucose you need to replenish these glycogen stores. When you’re missing glucose, you’ll feel weak and tired your whole workout.
Great sources of pre- workout carbs: bananas, oats, dried fruit, trail mix, pasta, a chocolate/protein bar, fruit smoothie.
Protein supplies your muscles with vital amino acids. It’s an excellent addition to carbs, and consuming protein before a workout has been linked to increased performance in weight training.
When you’re doing resistance training (such as weightlifting), your aim is to create small tears in your muscle fibers. Your body needs protein to re-build these micro-tears and build new lean muscle tissue.
Great pre- workout sources of protein are easy to digest – nuts, Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, or a glass of milk. Always be sure to *not* go too heavy on the protein in a pre- workout meal.
Here’s how much protein and carbs you need in your pre- workout meal:
Carbs = 0.25g – 0.30g per pound of your target body weight.
Protein = 0.25g – 0.30g per pound of your target body weight.
Here are a few examples of pre- workout meals that include a great mix of proteins and carbs:
- Apple with peanut butter (or almond butter)
- Fruits with Greek yogurt
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Fruit smoothie with protein powder
- Trail mix with nuts and fruit
- Oatmeal (or other whole-grain) with milk
How soon before the workout should I eat?
Don’t eat immediately before a workout. Not only will this cause discomfort, but you’re going to confuse your body by creating competing demands – digesting foods and forcing your muscles to perform.
Instead, eat at least half an hour to two hours before you work out depending on the food you eat (and how fast its digested.)
Post- Workout Meals
Post-workout nutrition is usually a little more complicated. When you’re refueling your body after a workout, your purpose is to supply your body with the nutrients it requires to repair, replenish, and recover after the training stimulus you went through.
It’s a fact – you have to eat after a workout. There’s no way around it. You have to replace all the calories you just used. Moreover, it’s important to replenish your glycogen stores. What’s more, consuming protein after a workout is an absolute must if you want to recover properly, especially after resistance training.
When you don’t take the time to eat after a workout, you’ll probably end up feeling tired, fatigued, and you’ll find yourself with low blood sugar. This naturally inhibits your body’s repair processes. But if you go as far as to consistently skip eating after workouts, you’ll find achieving your fitness goals *way* more difficult.
By focusing on your post- workout nutrition, you’ll be:
- Assisting in the increase of muscle protein synthesis
- Reducing cortisol levels (stress hormone)
- Minimizing muscle soreness, muscle damage
- Replenishing muscle glycogen
And to achieve these benefits, you will once again need two things – carbs and protein.
Here’s how much protein and carbs you need in your post-workout meal:
Carbs = 0.25-0.5g per pound of your target body weight.
Protein = 0.25g-.0.30g per pound of your target body weight.
The vast majority of people prefer to consume this meal in the form of a nutritional bomb – a protein shake or sugar-packed recovery drink. This is largely because appetite is suppressed immediately following a workout, and so liquid nutrition is way easier to take in.
Meanwhile, some people prefer having “real meals” that pair proteins and carbs – fan-favorites are chicken and rice, steak and potatoes, peanut butter sandwiches, and more.
While both approaches have their pros and cons, I’d say the first option is more sustainable. Following your workout up with a protein shake is a great way to get that protein in, which you could then top up on with carbs later on.
How soon after a workout should I eat food?
As soon as you can manage.
It’s best if it’s in the first 30 minutes following a workout because the body is prepared to receive (and put to work) any helpful nutrients you give it.
Here are a few great ideas for post-workout meals and snacks:
Snacks: a cup of chocolate milk, lean meat on top of whole-wheat toast, peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, protein shakes, rice cakes, Greek yogurt, protein-rich smoothies…
Meals: an egg omelet with avocado, baked sweet potatoes, pasta, grilled chicken with dark leafy vegetables, 1/2 cup oatmeal sweetened with honey, risotto with sardines…
*A note on hydration*
You should be hydrating before, during, and after your workout. Your water intake should be consistently spread out throughout the day, *not* gulped up once or twice a day in big chunks.
This will not only help you avoid feeling bloated, but it will also help your digestion function more effectively.
To wrap it all up…
Your pre and post-workout nutrition should consist mainly of healthy proteins and carbs.
Both of these nutrients help you fuel your workout, encourage muscle protein production, and repair the damages from intense physical activity.
Make an effort to eat a snack at least an hour before your workout and then immediately after your training sessions is done. Also, always remember to replace fluids and electrolytes by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
If you do this right, you’ll find that your (1) workout numbers will skyrocket and (2) your recovery game will change completely. Just by making a few tweaks in your diet (and its timing) you can reap the benefits that all pro athletes strive to achieve – optimal energy consumption, enhanced performance, and a speedy body recovery.