You’re no stranger to the concept of working out. Whether it’s to lose weight or gain muscle, you find yourself constantly looking up the best exercises to reach your goal. But have you spent enough time researching what to do outside of the gym? The food you consume before and after a workout can be just as important as the workout you’re doing, if not more.
You’ve probably heard that carbs and protein are your best friends when working out, but when do you consume them? And how much do you consume? Over-eating or eating the wrong things can do the opposite of what you’re trying to do, leaving you sluggish and possibly even making you gain weight instead of lose it. Here is a quick guide to what to eat and when.
The concept of eating right before a workout may seem odd, especially if you’re trying to lose weight, but working out on an empty stomach can leave you drained of nutrients and with a stomach grumbling louder than the music playing through your headphones. It’s important to fuel your body the right way so you have the energy you need and can recover from your workout quickly.
While protein helps your body maintain and rebuild muscle, it also takes a while to break down. This means it won’t give you the energy boost you need to get going. It’s important to fuel up with carbohydrates prior to working out, but be careful that you’re getting a mix of both simple and complex carbohydrates so your body releases energy slowly instead of burning out quickly.
It’s ideal to eat 30-60 minutes before hitting the gym depending on how hungry you are and how much you’re going to eat. The lighter the snack, the less time you need to digest.
Whole Wheat Toast with Bananas and Cinnamon: The combination of whole wheat toast and fruit gives you both simple and complex carbs to keep you from feeling fatigued before your workout is done. Bananas can help raise your potassium levels to compensate for what you’ll lose from sweating. Cinnamon has been linked to stabilizing blood sugar and improving brain function, plus it adds a special taste. For a kick of protein, add a tablespoon of peanut butter.
Citrus Energy Boosting Smoothie: Feeling the urge to drink coffee for energy before your workout? Reach for something with natural sugars for an energy boost instead. A citrusy smoothie is just the right level of sweet and refreshing that you’ll feel ready to burn calories or pump iron in no time. Plus, the addition of spinach will cause your muscles to use less oxygen, improving their performance. For extra protein, use almond milk instead of its dairy counterpart.
Oatmeal with Fresh Fruit: Worried about your energy running out halfway through your running session? Start your day with oatmeal. Because oats are full of fiber, they gradually release carbohydrates over time, leaving you with a constant source of energy. They also contain vitamin B, which helps your body convert carbohydrates into energy. Add some fruit for extra hydration and some quick burning carbs to get you going right away. Bananas will give you some extra protein, but strawberries and blueberries are high in water content, which helps with hydration.
Fruit and Nut Trail Mix: Trail mix is a great way to fill your body with the nutrients it needs for a successful workout. You want to choose a trail mix that’s primarily nuts and fruits, not one with artificial sugars like chocolate. Dried fruit has natural sugars that will give you energy, and nuts or seeds will help keep your insulin levels from dropping mid-workout. With trail mix, a little goes a long way. Some nuts can be high in fat content meaning they take longer to digest. If you eat too many you could start feeling sluggish mid-workout. For best results, choose a raw nut (not the ones roasted in oils) that is lower in fat such as almonds and cashews, and avoid richer nuts, such as pecans and macadamia nuts.
After working out, the goal is to replenish and recover. You may be feeling drained and a little cranky, which can be a sign your blood sugar is running low. Even if you aren’t feeling it right away, if you don’t refuel after working out, it will take a toll on you. Plus, you want to give your body the proteins it needs to build those muscles you just spent an hour working on.
Post-workout is when you really want to chow down on protein-rich foods. Not only do the amino acids help your muscles build and repair, but it will give you the slow burning energy you need to get through the rest of your day without feeling like you need a nap.
Don’t feel like you need to eat a whole meal right after working out though. For the best recovery, you want to eat within two hours of finishing your workout. Gauge your own body on if you should be leaning towards a lighter snack or a heartier meal.
Chocolate Milk: That’s right, you get to have your favorite childhood drink, and now it’s actually good for you. Research shows that post-workout chocolate milk can be even better for you than water or sports drinks. Chocolate milk is rich in carbohydrates, protein and sodium, which helps you retain the water, calcium, and sugars in the drink. Not only is it delicious, but it will help you regain energy and recover quickly.
Tuna Salad and Whole Grain Crackers: Not only is tuna super rich in protein, but it’s so quick and convenient. Whether you eat straight from the can or mix it up with some extra veggies and mayo, tuna can be the perfect post-workout snack or meal. Throw it on some whole grain crackers for a little crunch and some carbohydrates.
Grilled Chicken and Mixed Vegetables: If you’re feeling hungrier after your workout or went to the gym straight from work, it’s probably time for a full meal. You’re going to want something that’s heavy in protein and lean in fats, like chicken breast. Grill some up with some vegetables tossed in fat-free Italian dressing for a meal that will quickly fill you up without making you bloated.
Apple Cinnamon Protein Balls: Have a bit of a sweet tooth? You’re probably craving sugars after a workout because your insulin levels have dropped. Don’t reach for a candy bar or a protein bar with chocolate – the best thing for your body is something that’s naturally sweet. Make a batch of apple cinnamon protein balls earlier in the day so they’re ready to go when you get home. They’re full of protein and fiber to help your muscles reach their full potential.
Hydration is Key
The most important thing to consume when working out is water. When you sweat, your body loses a lot of water. The more you sweat, the more water you’ll need to drink to recover. A good recommendation is to get on the scale before and after your workout and drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost.
You may be tempted to reach for a sports drink like Gatorade after your workout, but you really only want to do that if you have an electrolyte deficiency. Your body loses both water and electrolytes through sweat, but it loses water a lot faster, so you don’t need the extra sugar found in sports drinks if your workout is less than an hour. If your body is low on electrolytes, you will feel fatigued, dizzy, and possibly even nauseous. That’s when you want to reach for the colorful sports drink and replenish. Try to find one that has 4-9% carbohydrates per eight ounces, and 120-170 mg. of sodium.
No matter how you choose to recover, you want to make sure you listen to your body. If a certain type of food makes you feel bloated or sluggish, it may not be the best choice for your pre- and post-workout diet. If you still feel tired or hungry after eating, you may need something heartier. Your body knows what it needs and will not hesitate to tell you. But with the right combination of foods and water, you’ll be having the best workouts possible in no time.