Many of us exercise for different reasons – to lose weight, for mental alertness, to build muscle, to stay healthy, to release stress, to train for a marathon. Whatever your reasons may be, it is just as important to plan your pre and post-exercise nutrition as it is to plan your work-out session for the day. To ensure that your hard-earned efforts are not futile, eat about 2 hours before your planned exercise and then eat 30 minutes after your session. What you eat before exercise will give you the energy you need for maximum ability and what you eat after is key to help your muscles recover.
With that being said, let’s start with what you should eat before you work-out. To keep it simple, eat some carbohydrates. Those are easier to digest and will provide the energy you will need. Protein and fats take longer to digest and will require blood and muscle energy to do so. What you would need for your work-out would be used by your stomach. You don’t want that.
Some pre-work-out options include:
- whole wheat bagel and peanut butter
- a banana or apple
- bowl of cereal with milk
Just remember, you want something quick and light. This in turn equates to easier digesting for your stomach. You don’t want to eat something like a slice of pizza or a hamburger before working out because those food items will take a longer time to digest, taking away key energy you could have used for your bike run.
During your work-out, make sure to drink water often to hydrate your muscles. Usually that will keep your hunger in check. But if you are an endurance athlete, you will need to also fuel up during your exercise. There are a lot of energy gels and energy bars available to give you a quick boost of energy for those long runs. I like to eat Clif Shot Blocks during my long work-outs. They taste like Fruit Roll Ups and are easy to carry in your gym clothes.
Finally, what to eat post-work-out? You want to eat an equal amount of protein and carbs. Most guys who are trying to get big and build muscle usually drink a protein shake after working-out. But if you are aiming for a more lean look, you want to avoid too much protein but make sure to include carbohydrates. The misconception for people trying to lose weight is to cut out carbs. If you do that, you risk the chance of breaking down important muscle tissue.
Some post-work-out options include:
- plain yogurt with fresh fruit and granola
- whey protein shake
- banana or apple
- pita bread with hummus
- whole wheat bread with peanut butter
- whole wheat crackers and string cheese
And if you have time after working out for an actual sit down meal, here are some more options:
- egg white omelet with whole wheat toast
- smoothie with protein powder (see my Skinny Smoothie post)
- tuna fish salad with celery and alfalfa sprouts on whole wheat bagel
- white boneless skinless chicken breast with brown rice and veggies
- light canned tuna with quinoa and steamed veggies
- wild salmon with spinach and sweet potato
- ginger salmon with couscous and steamed veggies
The most important thing to remember is that you MUST eat around 30 minutes after working out in order to reap the benefits from your foods. The reason is that your muscles are in need of recovery and are more open to absorbing the nutrients you feed it right after working out. If you wait too long to eat, you will miss the key period to do so. Keep in mind to wait at least 20 minutes before eating in order to allow ample blood supply to aid your digestive tract. After a high-impact work-out, most of your blood is going to your worn-out muscles.
Do you also find that the more you work-out, the more you feel hungry all the time? Exercise is known to stimulate hunger. Although most people work-out to lose weight, it can actually negate the weight-loss benefit we are looking for. Unless you are eating less calories than you are burning off while exercising, you will shed some pounds. But such is not likely to occur since most people are more hungry consistently after working out. This is why it is just as important to plan your nutrition as it is to plan your work-out regimen. The foods you eat and the exercise you do go hand-in-hand to bring out the best you! So next time you plan to hit the gym, try one of the food suggestions mentioned in my post and see if you notice a difference in your energy levels before and after your work-out!