Pre and Post Workout Eating 101
I’m not sure why pre and post workout meals seem SO complicated, but they do. I mean, we know how to eat, right?! Shouldn’t this be pretty simple? If we are eating clean does it really matter?
Turns out, it does matter if you want to maximize your workout, have sustained energy, replenish glycogen stores and repair muscle after your workout.
I know a whole lot of you out there get queasy if you eat before you hit the gym, and some of you feel weak and dizzy if you don’t chow down beforehand. But there’s a solution for everyone! We can once and for all stop asking the question and go into our workouts fueled up to crush even the most challenging workout (even PIIT28!). There are most certainly better foods than others, so take notes because they might not be what you think!
Alright guys, let’s get the obvious out of the way first.
- You need to hydrate before, during and after your workout. Water is your body’s cooling system, plain and simple. And if you sweat a lot or work out in the heat, you can easily get dehydrated. Shoot for about 32 ounces of water in the 2 hours leading up to exercise. If you’re breaking a sweat before the sun comes up, just make sure you hydrate a little extra during your sesh. You really don’t need anything more than water unless you’re working out in extreme heat or intensely for longer than 60 minutes. If you are, you might consider a sports beverage, but READ THOSE LABELS. The last thing you want are dyes and a bunch of sugar. Plain coconut water does wonders!
PROTEIN & CARBS:
- As for your pre-workout meal, turns out it’s exactly what you should eat post-workout! How’s that for simple?! I mean, we really have been over-thinking this thing, haven’t we? Before you exercise, you need some carbs (YAY!) and protein without much fiber or fat. (I’ll explain the why down below). The rest of the day, you definitely want to get in those healthy fats and fiber, but pre and post, fat and fiber slow down the transit of nutrients through the stomach, postponing the benefits of your meal.
- You want it, but not too close to your workout. Fiber is good, so don’t shy away from it. It expands the inside walls of your colon, which assists elimination (that’s a much nicer word than the alternative, huh!). Fiber helps you excrete more food, which prevents you from storing as much fat in your body and it makes you feel full faster. So if you’re not going #2 often, you’ve got to have more fiber, preferably from natural sources like vegetables, fruits, flax and chia seeds. But you don’t want all this action happening too close your workout, so save the big-ticket fiber foods for 2 hours after your workout. This means that all those chia seed puddings, and high fiber cereals are NOT ideal immediately before or after you exercise.
BEFORE YOUR WORKOUT…
Simple or Complex?
- If you can eat 2 hours before your workout, slow-digesting or complex carbs like oats are a great choice. This allows some time for the carbs to digest and get blood sugar levels up and glycogen stores full prior to training. But if you’re lucky to just get out the door before you dash to the gym, consider more of a simple carb such as one slice of toast with some PB and banana!
To Fast or Not to Fast?
- There’s a lot of buzz about working out on an empty stomach; intermittent fasting is all the rage. But many experts recommend eating before exercise, and here’s why: Exercising on an empty stomach can lead to muscle tissue breakdown. Without food for fuel, muscle tissue is converted to glucose for energy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t work as hard as I do just to have my muscles breaking down to give me energy. If a small meal can prevent this, I’m all in!
- If you cannot stand eating first thing in the morning and always train on empty, assess the way you work out. If you’re going on a power walk, for example, you don’t need much. Lower-intensity workouts don’t require the same fuel-up as a HIIT class. Something is better than nothing, so if you can eat half of a protein bar, or a scrambled egg white and a few strawberries, or an egg muffin, you’ll be ok.
AFTER YOUR WORKOUT…
- As with most things in life, timing is everything! It is absolutely critical that you consume your post-workout meal immediately after exercise. Muscles are depleted and require a wealth of protein and carbohydrates. This is called, “the window,” and it’s when muscles are biochemically primed for nutrient uptake. Ideally, you’ll consume your post-workout meal within 20-30 minutes, and definitely within the hour. Muscles cannot reach their full potential without proper post-workout fuel in order to increase protein synthesis, which basically means, we probably aren’t getting all we can from our physiques! This is why a protein shake is great because you can make it before you leave the house and leave it in a cooler in your car. Go basic: a shake with almond milk, protein powder and half a banana gives you the macros you need. If that’s not an option, try a container of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese. Consume on your way home, or a few minutes after you press “stop” on a Blogilates workout, and you’ll be fueling properly within that perfect little window.
- Have you ever heard about endurance athletes chugging chocolate milk after a long session? It’s true! Chocolate milk contains just about the right about of protein and carbs with no fiber and little fat. Keep in mind these are tough workouts and the athletes use up their glycogen stores, but it’s pretty interesting huh?
What are your favorite pre- and post-workout meals?