Here’s What you Can Eat Before and After Working Out

As a nutritionist and personal trainer one of the most frequent questions I get asked is “What should I eat before and after my workouts?” or “How much protein should I eat after working out?”  Unfortunately the answer to these questions can become confusing, as there is so much information out there and the information is always changing as new research is being done.  That being said I’ll try my best to share some simple tips with you to help you greater success when working out and achieving your health goals.

What you eat before and after your works really does depend on your fitness level and what goal you want to achieve with your exercise routine.  If for example you are planning to run a marathon in the next couple of months your eating habits will be very different from some one who enjoys running solely for it’s health benefits.  The following advice I’m going to give is for most of us who take part in exercise as a part of healthy balanced lifestyle, not for the elite athlete.

Before Exercise:

Numerous studies have concluded that consuming carbohydrates before exercise results in improved performance when compared with exercising on an empty stomach.  Many experts recommend a low GI (glycemic index) meal before exercise to supply sustained energy during your workout.  Low GI foods are foods that don’t spike your blood sugar, for example whole grain bread would be considered low GI compared to white bread which would be considered high GI, as it can spike your blood sugar levels which sets you up for a crash later.

Here are some examples of low GI foods:

Fruits – apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit
Vegetables – most vegetables including sweet potato
Grains and breads – whole grain pasta and breads, barley, rye
Nuts and seeds – almonds, brazil nuts, sunflower and sesame
Fish, lean meat, poultry and eggs
Cheese, yogurt, keifer

For a complete list you can visit glycemicindex.com for a list of low and high GI foods.

When is the best time to eat before exercise?

I personally recommend waiting at least 1 hour after eating to work out. But ideally, you should eat between 2 and 4 hours before working out, this leaves enough time for your stomach to settle so you don’t feel uncomfortable, not too full and not too hungry.  However, the exact timing of your pre-exercise meal will depend on your daily schedule and the time of day you plan to exercise.

What would be an example of a pre-workout meal?

Pre-Workout Meals Ideas (2-4 hours before exercise):

  • sandwich filled with chicken, egg or peanut butter and a salad
  • pasta with tomato-based pasta sauce and vegetables
  • chicken with rice and salad
  • vegetables with noodles or quinoa

Pre-Workout Snack ideas (1-2 hours before exercise):

During Exercise:

For most activities lasting less than an hour, drinking anything other than water is unnecessary.

During Exercise (this is for long distance, endurance or high intensity training only):

  • coconut water or electrolyte drink
  • diluted fruit juice
  • handful dried fruit
  • banana
  • energy gel

*note:  it’s important to begin consuming carbs before fatigue sets in.  It takes at least 30 minutes for the carb to be absorbed into the bloodstream.  It’s best to begin consuming carb soon after the start of your workout, certainly within the first 30 minutes.

After Exercise:

The best time to start refuelling is as soon as possible after exercise, during the first 2 hours replenishment to muscles is most rapid.  Therefore, eating carbohydrates during this time speeds up recovery time.  However, when you consume protein and carbohydrates together immediately after exercise they promote more efficient muscle tissue growth as well as faster refuelling of the bodies energy stores.

Many people believe that it’s protein you need most of after your workout.  But if for example your exercise consisted of running for at least 1 hour at moderate intensity, you’ve burned a lot of your bodies fuel.  If you only consumed protein, you are not restoring the bodies fuel tanks, remember that carbs are the fuel for the body.  So, when you go running tomorrow you’ll find you won’t have as much energy and will feel fatigued much faster. You have depleted the bodies fuel and haven’t filled up.  Just like a car, you can’t get very far with an empty gas tank.  Therefore, the optimal post-workout meal or drink should include protein and carbohydrates in a ratio of about 1:4.

Post-Exercise snack ideas (consumed within 2 hours after exercise):

What are some of your favourite meals before and after working out? Share in the comments below.