Working out is much more than losing weight and building a great physique. Effective exercise can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. People who are most active tend to get better sleep, have a positive mood, and feel more energized.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that your pre and post workout meals are extremely important. Fuel your next fitness routine correctly by loading up on the vitamins and nutrients you need to get the most out of your workout. Here are some of my top tips I give my program participants regarding pre and post workout nutrition.
Protein and Carbs are GOOD
Our primary source of energy during the workout is carbohydrates! Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose which fuels our muscles and enables us to perform at our best! If your glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates) are depleted at the onset of exercise, you’re likely going to feel like throwing in the towel after just a few minutes into the workout. Don’t ever go into a workout feeling hungry! Simple carbs (high glycemic) are typically best to have if you are feeling hungry and your workout is coming up in the next 30 minutes to an hour. Some examples of simple carbs to have in this short time before your workout include: banana, other piece of fruit, granola bar, rice cake, piece of toast, raisins, or greek yogurt. I recommend having slow digesting carbs 2-3 hours before the workout. Typically, if you eat enough slow digesting carbohydrates 2-3 hours before the workout you won’t feel hungry before the workout. Some examples of these complex carbohydrates include: sweet potatoes, wild rice, wheat germ, quinoa, and bran.
Don’t forget the protein! Weight training causes tears in our muscle fibers. When this occurs we need amino acids (protein) to aid in recovery and to facilitate the growth of lean muscle mass. Having enough protein is essential to see improvements in your hard earned muscle. Some quality pre workout protein sources include: whey protein, turkey, chicken breast, eggs, milk, greek yogurt, and milk.
I typically snack on a banana with some all-natural peanut butter and dry steel cut oats before a workout.
Some other pre workout snacks I recommend are:
Smoothie with fruits and veggies
Apple with almond butter
Granola, berries, and greek yogurt
Dried fruit and a tablespoon of raw nuts
Rice cake with some peanut butter
When is the best time to eat before a workout?
Everybody is different. The timeframe I recommend is anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours. Experiment with your body to determine how quickly you digest foods. Working out first thing in the morning will make it difficult to eat far in advance. Have a small snack before your workout and have a quality breakfast after you complete the workout.
Last but not least, DRINK UP!
Your performance will be greatly limited if you walk into the gym or begin that run without proper hydration. If your urine is dark colored when you use the bathroom first thing in the morning, you might want to make a conscious effort to drink more water before going to bed. As a general rule, women should have a minimum of 9 cups of water per day and men should have a minimum of 13 cups per day. It is hard to go overboard on water intake so carry a water bottle with you and drink up several times throughout the day.
Maybe you’ve heard of that “post-workout window” theory that states that your body only has 45 minutes to take in nutrients and vitamins after the workout. Well, truth is, your body will take in vitamins and minerals beyond the 45 minutes. However, it is true that your body is going to be most receptive to carbohydrates and nutrients after the workout as our glycogen stores will be depleted and muscle repair and recovery does demand amino acids and nutrients. It would be a terrible mistake to wait hours after a workout to eat. Maybe you can’t eat a meal right after a workout? At least have a healthy snack prepared to hold you over till the next meal. Make sure your post workout meal is very nutrient dense. What do I mean by nutrient dense? COLOR! Eat a variety of color in your post workout meal as different colors typically contain different vitamins and minerals. Also, AVOID FAT. Fat slows digestion and the last thing we want to do when trying to replenish and recover is slow down the process!
Don’t overcompensate. Yes, you just had a phenomenal workout but don’t blow it all away by eating junk food and telling yourself you “earned it” with how much sweat you left on the gym floor. Avoid the sugary smoothies, “healthy” acai bowls, 500-calorie protein bars, and thick sports drinks (unless your cardio workout lasted longer than 60 minutes. READ MORE HERE).
Don’t forget to rehydrate! Those who regularly attend my group exercise class know that I sound like a broken record with my invitation to “recover and rehydrate” at the end of each workout. As stated earlier, I’d rather you drink too much water than too little.
My favorite post workout meals:
Whey protein powder and fruit salad (90% of the time this is my post-workout)
Chocolate milk (preferably unsweetened cocoa and low fat milk)
Grilled chicken and vegetables
Salmon and sweet potatoes
Whole wheat tuna fish, hummus, and spinach sandwich
Protein green smoothie
These are just guidelines! Your body is unique and different from anyone else on this planet so recognize that your genetic makeup will respond more favorably to certain foods than others. Try out the variety of pre and post workout combos listed above to determine which one you perform best with. As a final note, never make nutritional changes on a game or race day. Switch things up with your training routine and learn which foods fuel you best in those “practice runs”.
To learn more about the timing of foods keep an eye out for Coach Aaron’s YOUR BEST SELF guide coming soon.