When you exercise, you do it in order to try to maintain good health. You know that you have to eat so that your body has the energy to perform the workouts that you do as well as for everyday tasks. But, just what you should eat before and after you workouts is important for making the best of your workouts. Also, how long you eat before and after each workout is equally important.
Whether you are going to be doing a cardio workout or a resistance workout, you should try to make it a point to eat a mix of carbohydrates and protein. What determines the percentage of carbohydrates and protein you should consume is whether you are doing cardio or resistance and the intensity level you will be working at.
The ideal time to eat your pre workout meal is 1 hour before you start. If you are working at a lower intensity level, keep this meal down to around 200 calories or so. If you are working at a higher intensity level, you may need this meal to be as high as 400 to 500 calories.
If you are doing a cardio session, you will need to eat a mix of around 2/3 carbohydrates and 1/3 protein. This will give you longer sustained energy from the extra carbs with enough protein to keep muscle from breaking down during your workout.
If you are doing a resistance session, you should eat a mix of around 1/3 carbohydrates and 2/3 protein. This will give you enough energy from the carbs to perform each set you do and the extra protein will help keep muscle breakdown to a minimum during your workout. It has been shown that your body most effectively uses protein during exertion meaning that taking in more protein before resistance workouts aids in faster recovery as well.
Now, eating after a workout is just as important as the pre workout meal. Remember that when you exercise whether it is a cardio or a resistance session, you deplete energy in the form of glycogen. Our brain and central nervous system relies on glycogen as their main source of fuel so if we don’t replace it after exercise, our bodies will begin to break down muscle tissue into amino acids, then convert them into usable fuel for the brain and central nervous system.
Also, mostly during resistance workouts, you break down muscle tissue by creating micro tears. This means that right after a workout; your muscles go into a repair mode. Proteins are the key macronutrient for muscle repair and so you don’t want muscle breaking down further to create fuel in place of lost glycogen.
If you have just finished a cardio session, you will need to consume mostly carbohydrates, preferably ones with high fiber. Oatmeal, rice, whole wheat pasta, and most northern fruits are good sources. Try to consume around 30 to 50 grams of these carbohydrates after a cardio session. After cardio, it is ok to eat within 5 to 10 minutes of completion.
If you have just finished a resistance session, you will need a combination of carbohydrates and protein. Because unlike cardio workouts, with resistance workouts you are breaking down muscle tissue by creating micro tears. The protein is needed to build up and repair these tears so the muscle can increase in size and strength. The carbs not only replace the lost muscle glycogen, but also help the protein get into our muscle cells so it can synthesize into structural protein, or muscle itself.
Chicken or fish with a potato, egg whites with a piece of fruit, or a protein shake with fruit mixed in are good meals after resistance workouts but remember to keep the fiber low here. High fiber slows down digestion, meaning the protein will take longer to reach the muscle cells.
After resistance, it is recommended to wait 30 minutes before eating so as not to take blood away from your muscles too soon. The blood in your muscles helps with the repair process by removing metabolic waste products from them. Any fats should be consumed well before and well after exercise.
What To Eat Before and After a Workout
Here are some of the best foods to eat before and after a workout so can fuel up the right way.
Need a snack on-the-go on your way to the gym? Stick with a smoothie. Not only are they time-friendly, building your own blend has a bunch of exercise benefits. For a foolproof formula, use your favorite sliced fruit, a cup of Greek yogurt and some granola for a thicker consistency. If you’re picking one up, check the label to make sure it’s made from whey or milk-based proteins. And no need to go overboard — 10 to 20 grams of protein before exercising is plenty.
Before: Whole Wheat Toast with Sliced Banana and Cinnamon
When it comes to gearing up for workout, carbs are your gym BFF. The key is to have a mixed bag of complex and simple ones so that the release of energy during your workout is slow and steady throughout your routine. Whole-wheat toast with fruit gives you both types of carbs with the bonus of being super easy to digest. Complex carbs will keep your motor humming, while the fruit adds an extra kick of energy. For those training for a race, bananas are perfect in raising potassium levels, which drop when you sweat a lot. For an added bonus, add a dash of cinnamon. The spice has been linked to stabilizing blood sugar and improving brain function.
After: Grilled Chicken and Mixed Vegetables
Your body is in recovery mode, so you need a nutrient dense dish. The lean protein and carbohydrates in chicken will fill you up without feeling overly bloated. Add some veggies in olive oil to keep your ticker in tip top shape.
Before: Greek Yogurt and Trail Mix
Getting ready for a long run? Eat some yogurt first. It’s easy on your stomach and when paired with trail mix can give you the little rev your body needs. Just make sure to choose a mix that is mostly nut and dried fruit based with as little fillers as possible. (Yes, sadly we’re talking about those little chocolates!) The healthy sugars from dried fruit provide that quick energy boost while seeds and nuts will keep insulin levels from dropping mid-workout. Just remember, a little bit goes a long way. Seeds and nuts are high in fat, which means they take longer to digest. Too many and you could start feeling sluggish and slow as you sweat.
After: Veggie Omelet with Avocado
You already know eggs are a great source of protein and help aid in muscle recovery and growth. Switch it up from the usual scramble and make a veggie-packed omelet. Garnish with a few slices of avocado for fiber and monosaturated fats (the good kind!). Similar to olive oil, avocados can help your body better absorb fat soluble nutrients that your veggies have like vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins are stocked with antioxidants, the best boost for your body, inside and out.
After: Salmon with Sweet Potato
Aside from the usual protein perks, salmon has bioactive peptides, small protein molecules that play a role in inflammation reduction, helping to regulate insulin levels and give you joint support. Sweet potatoes pack in those complex carbs as well as help to restore glycogen levels, which get depleted after a workout.
Before: Oatmeal with Fresh Fruit
Oatmeal is the workout buddy you never have to nag to exercise. It sticks with you throughout your workout by gradually releasing sugar into your bloodstream. Adding fruit to your bowl will help increase the fluid content of your pre-workout snack, keeping you hydrated.
After: Whole Wheat Tuna Fish, Hummus and Spinach Sandwich
If you’re a lunchtime exerciser, this is the sandwich for you. Tuna is low in calories, but high in protein and carbs. Hummus is a better-for-you spread over mayo or mustard, while also being high in fiber. And last but certainly not least, spinach is a produce powerhouse, handling everything from curbing your appetite to boosting your complexion and lowering blood pressure and inflammation.
Before: Apple Wedges with Almond Butter
If it comes down to picking out of the candy dish or an apple for some pre-workout sugar, go for the apple. You’ll avoid a sugar crash mid-lunge while stocking up on vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. To keep your stomach from growling, spread a tablespoon of almond butter on your slices. It squashes hunger and amps energy levels up.
After: Chocolate Milk
Recent research has shown that chocolate milk is the latest craze in post-workout snacks, even over water and sports drinks. That’s because it has everything you need in one glass: carbs and protein for muscle recovery, water content to replace the fluids lost as sweat and calcium, sodium and sugar — all ingredients that help you recover faster, retain water and regain energy. Got milk, anyone?