The best foods to eat before, during and after a workout
If you’re putting time, energy and money into exercising, you probably want to maximize your results by eating right before, during and after the gym. I always advise clients to first make sure they are eating the right amount of calories for their weight loss goal, then track how those calories are split between macronutrients, and time their meals around their workout each day. Some factors to consider are what type of exercise you are performing, what your goal is and how long you plan to workout.
What you eat before a workout will greatly affect your performance. Complex carbohydrates will provide sustainable energy by preserving muscle and liver glycogen, and adequate protein will prevent breakdown of muscle mass by flooding the bloodstream with amino acids. I suggest consuming a balanced meal with protein and carbohydrates two to three hours before exercise or a shake with protein powder and fruit 30-60 minutes before exercise. Make sure what you eat won’t upset your stomach.
Proper nutrition during your workout can boost performance and speed up your recovery. If your workout is less than two hours, your main focus should be hydration. If your workout is two hours or longer, consume 15 grams of protein per hour or 30-45 grams of carbs per hour. Protein is important for those trying to gain and preserve muscle mass, while carbohydrates provide an immediate fuel source for endurance athletes and other highly active people. If you’re exercising in the heat or for longer than two hours, it is recommended that you consume a drink with electrolytes to facilitate hydration. Water alone will decrease your performance, decrease your recovery and could cause dangerously low sodium levels in your blood, known as hyponatremia.
Eating correctly one to two hours after a workout will aid in recovery, hydration, building muscle and improving future performance. Men should consume 40-60 grams of protein and women should aim for 20-30 grams. I also suggest adding some minimally-processed whole food carbohydrates or fruit. If your pre-workout meal was small, eat a bigger post-workout meal within an hour. If you trained on an empty stomach, eat as soon as possible after your workout.
The nutrition requirements of an endurance athlete training for a race is different than that of a bodybuilder who is recovering from a heavy weight-lifting workout. The average person who isn’t competing in an athletic event should eat high quality proteins, high quality carbohydrates (including fruits and vegetables), and healthy fats within two hours of training both before and after and stay hydrated during their exercise routine to maximize their results. You can meet these requirements from solid foods or smoothies and shakes. Remember, the total amount of proteins, carbs and fats you consume in a day is much more important than nutrient timing to increase lean muscle mass, decrease body fat and improve performance.
About the Author
Joe Ozanic, is a personal trainer, cancer exercise trainer and nutrition specialist at Advocate Good Shepherd Health and Fitness Center in Barrington, Ill. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science in Preventative & Rehabilitative Exercise Science and is currently pursuing his Master’s in Business Administration. He trains individuals one-on-one or in small groups and teaches four group exercise classes and a foam-rolling/stretching instructional class on Saturday mornings.