We know that proper nutrition is absolutely critical for seeing results from an exercise program. But your nutrient timing – what and when you eat to support your workouts – is key for optimizing your energy, maximizing your workout performance, building muscle, and promoting recovery.
When it comes to pre- and post-workout nutrition, the most important thing to remember is to consume quick-digesting protein and carbs within 1 hour before and after your workout. Read on to learn what, when, and how much to eat to ensure you get the most out of your workouts and can build that hard-earned muscle!
Click here to download a summary handout about what to eat before and after exercise.
• Consume healthy carbohydrates and lean protein before working out. Carbohydrates go to your liver, muscles, and bloodstream to ensure you have adequate energy reserves (glycogen, or stored glucose) to fuel your workout. Protein will support your muscles and help to ensure that muscle tissue is not broken down for energy.
• 2-3 hours before your workout, eat a low-glycemic (whole grain) starch paired with low-fat protein. Good combinations include oatmeal with 4 egg whites, a low-fat turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, a chicken breast with 1/2 cup brown rice, 2 hard boiled eggs with ½ sweet potato, a slice of whole grain toast with 1 tbsp of nut butter, or a whole grain English muffin with 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese.
• Within 1 hour before your workout, consume 1 serving of fruit with a little whey protein (0.1g of protein per pound of body weight, or 1/10 of your weight in lb). The fruit will help to keep your blood sugar stable during the workout and provide energy for your muscles and brain. The antioxidants in fruit will also help to reduce oxidative stress and muscle damage. Whey protein is digested quickly so it will go straight to your muscles. Whey is found in dairy, so good pre-workout combinations include non-fat Greek yogurt with 1 cup of berries, a glass of skim milk and an apple, or a smoothie with whey and fruit. If you cannot tolerate whey or dairy, try pea protein or a vegan protein powder.
• Minimize fat consumption before exercise. Fat takes a while to digest, which can cause an upset stomach while you work out.
• Stick to familiar foods. Avoid trying new foods before a workout to avoid any chance of gastrointestinal upset.
• Limit fiber intake right before workouts. Although it is important to have fiber at each meal and snack, limit fiber immediately before workouts because you want quick energy sources. This does NOT imply that you should eat candy bars, cookies, chips, white bread, or other refined carbohydrates that are low in fiber but high in sugar! Stick to healthy choices like fruit, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.
• Drink 8 oz of water before your workout to ensure you're well hydrated.
• Consider drinking 1-2 cups of coffee before your workout if you can tolerate it. Caffeine increases your metabolic rate, so drinking a little caffeine prior to working out can help you burn more calories, have more energy, and push harder. Remember that caffeine is a diuretic, so drink more water if you consume coffee or another caffinated drink prior to working out.
• Take sips of water every 15-20 minutes to prevent dehydration.
• Consider drinking a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement, especially if you are trying to lose weight or limiting calories. BCAAs are digested rapidly and are preferentially used by your muscles. They help to preserve your muscle protein, which helps prevent muscle protein from being broken down for energy so that carbs and fat are used instead.
• If exercising for more than 1 hour, consume 30-60 grams (120-240 calories) of quick-digesting carbs every hour after the 1st hour. Good options include a low-sugar sports drink, carbohydrate gels, or a banana.
• You are not finished training until you have refueled! Immediately after exercise, your muscles are primed to take up protein for rebuilding and to soak up carbs for replenishing their glycogen stores. Make sure to eat quick-digesting protein and carbs within the 2 hour window after working out.
• Consume protein that is high in BCAAs, such as whey, and a quick-digesting carb, such as fruit, right after your workout (ideally within 30 minutes after you finish). Aim for 0.5 grams of carb per pound of body weight. A combination of glucose and fructose is best (the liver needs fructose to replenish its carbohydrate stores), which makes fruit a great choice. Also aim for 0.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Good combinations include a whey protein shake with a piece of fruit or a smoothie that has whey and fruit blended together. If you cannot tolerate whey, go for pea protein because it is high in BCAAs. Note that your protein and fruit immediately after exercise does not replace a meal – it is just to replenish your muscles when they are most primed to take in nutrients.
• Drink plenty of water. Make sure you do not lose more than 2% of your body weight in water losses.
• Replenish electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, lost in sweat. Milk is a great post-workout choice since it’s high in electrolytes. Be sure to consume foods high in potassium, such as fruits, vegetables, and potatoes, to restore electrolyte balance. If you sweat a lot, consume a little salt in your post-workout meal to replenish the sodium you lost and keep your blood pressure within normal range.
• If building muscle is a goal, consider having 1 scoop of casein protein powder at night before bed. Casein is a slow digesting protein that will feed your muscles some protein while you sleep (i.e. during the overnight fast) so they're not broken down.
Your food choices before and after exercise determine how well you can perform during your workouts, how hard you can push, and how effectively you can recover. Although it requires some planning, fueling up properly before and after workouts is absolutely pivotal for seeing results. Please contact us if you have any questions or need help determining the pre- and post-workout foods that are best for you!