As a personal trainer and nurse, one of the most common questions I’m asked is: What should I eat before and after my workout? Surprisingly, I love this question. Because pre- and post-workout nutrition are so essential. It can be such a misunderstood, confusing topic, so I’m happy to shed some light on it.
Simply put, pre-workout nutrition should focus on food that will fuel your activity, like complex carbs for energy. Alternatively, post-workout nutrition will focus on foods for recovery, like protein for refueling.
No matter the type of workout, it’s imperative to focus on fueling your body appropriately. While this might look a little different for various kinds of workouts, the main concept is the same: focus on carbohydrates. This will prevent blood sugar from dropping too low, while also providing fuel for our muscles.
Slow, Long Cardio Training
For cardio training that will be long and slow, be sure to eat a balanced meal about two hours beforehand. Include foods that are high in complex carbs and protein, but lower in fats and fiber. Fat and fiber are digested slowly, which can be stressful to the digestive system and cause stomach discomfort. Also, caffeine can sometimes be the cause of gas and bloating. If you notice these effects, I recommend avoiding caffeine pre-workout. Examples: oatmeal with collagen, an english muffin with1 egg, a waffle with honey.
If you absolutely need a snack closer to the time of your workout, aim for primarily complex carbs that provide about 100-200 calories. Ideally, these carbs will be higher on the glycemic index, like a large banana, a small cup greek yogurt with berries, or a cup of applesauce
Unlike most other workouts, marathon training will require intra-workout fuel. During your run, focus on consuming simple carbs every hour to re-fuel. Simple carbs will help maintain normal blood glucose levels, extend endurance, and increase your power and overall performance. Plan to consume ~30-60 grams of carbs per hour. Examples include: 2-3 cups of your favorite sports drink, 1-2 portable carbohydrate gels, or 5-6 dates.
HIIT cardio is short and intense, like a spin class or treadmill intervals. Before your training, consume 100-200 calories of complex carbohydrates, while also limiting fat and fiber to prevent digestive upset.
Before a strength training session, consume a balanced meal about two hours before hitting the weights, including protein and carbs. In this case, it’s okay to also eat a high carb snack 30-60 minutes beforehand, if you feel hungry or plan to workout for over an hour. Examples of balanced pre-workout balanced meals include a hard-boiled egg with toast, a cheese stick with sliced turkey and crackers, or oatmeal with protein powder.
Post-workout, carbohydrates and protein are the primary focus. The carb to protein ratio is about 3:1 or 4:1, which typically provides 20-30 grams of protein. The carbs refuel the muscles, while the protein will help repair, rebuild, and prevent any further breakdown of muscles.
After any kind of cardio session, consume a small snack that is high in carbohydrates within 60 minutes of activity. Examples include chocolate milk (which contains simple carbs, protein, and electrolytes), fresh fruit, or honey.
Within two hours of activity, aim for a post-workout meal that is high in complex carbs and protein to keep you full. Examples include oatmeal with berries, peanut butter, and milk, Greek yogurt with berries and granola, and egg scramble with veggies and whole wheat toast, or a whole wheat pita with hummus.
After strength training, consume a post-workout meal within 30 minutes to help maximize protein synthesis. This meal should include both carbs and protein to optimally replenish glycogen stores and build muscle. Examples include: a turkey sandwich with whole wheat bread and fruit, oatmeal with honey and eggs, ground turkey with white rice, or baked sweet potato with salmon.
Last, but not least: hydration! Arguably more important than pre/post workout nutrition, hydration is key to performance and recovery. It aids in nutrient transport, flushing out toxins, regulating body temperature, and lubricating joints. All of which are essential for every kind of workout.
Aim to drink 8-10 cups of filtered water per day or at least half your body weight (pounds) in ounces of water. Post-workout, make it a goal to drink about 1-2 cups of fluid for every hour of exercise. Options for optimal hydration include filtered water (upgrade with a sprinkle of sea salt), fresh fruit juice, or a sports drink.
Pre- and post-workout nutrition really is of the utmost importance. It can make or break your performance and recovery, which is why I take it so seriously, personally and with each of my clients. With this pre- and post-workout nutrition guide, I hope you’ve gained clarity and new ideas for adequate nutrition and fuel!