Fuel Your Body: What To Eat Before Or After Workout (Ultimate Guide)

Carbohydrates and Protein Fuel

Woman Working Out - Xendurance

Image By Andreea Boncota from Unsplash

We take the time to get dressed to go to the gym and think through what workout clothes to wear, usually based on the type of workout. When half way through a workout, do you ever find yourself "out of gas”? Did you take the time to think through what to eat before and after your workout? The clothes you choose to train in don’t fuel your body with energy and nourishment. What you consume before and after a workout provides you with the power source to have a quality workout - so maybe that might be more important than your Rogue shorts and Nike sports bra? 

We all may have different workouts in different sports so what should your feed your body with to get through your workout?

What To Eat Before A Workout

Maybe the goal of your workout is to get through it, survive and also excel. Don’t we all like to strut around the gym a little after a heavy lift or fast time? Well, you need the right food to help you strut! And your pre-workout foods are vital important.

How long should you wait to workout after eating? It depends on the type of workout but a general rule is about 30 minutes prior. 

Carbohydrates are a number one source of energy to eat before a workout. Many recommend consuming carbohydrates at least 30 minutes before a workout.  This allows time for your body to digest and absorb the carbohydrates so that the energy they provide is readily available in time for your workout. It is best to avoid a large amount of protein, fiber, and fat pre-workout because these foods require more time and effort to digest, which could undermine the quality of your workout.

If you are an ultra distance runner, heading out to do a 50 or 100 mile race, you may be adding more to your diet and you have probably started calculating days ahead on what, how much and when to eat - so we will concentrate on the average person training and trying to stay in shape with their workout in a gym. We will keep our discussion on what to eat before and after a workout - for normal active people. (We are not bashing the 100-mile runners but we will consider them superhuman for now)

What foods are considered good pre-workout foods? Lets mention:

  • Oats, Oatmeal, Granola
  • Whole grains or Rice Cakes
  • Fruit Smoothies, Purees
  • Bananas (Bananas have twice the amount of carbs compared to other fruits, such as apples, berries or oranges, which means that they could fuel a longer workout.)
  • Greek yogurt and bananas…or fresh fruit
  • Smoothies with yogurt added or almond butter
  • Pre-workout drinks with carbohydrates and possibly electrolytes.

Depending again on the type and length of workout, there are several studies that have reported the potential of pre-workout protein consumption as boosting athletic performance. Many supplement companies encourage protein consumption in your morning smoothie as do trainers and coaches.

What Should You Eat After A Workout?

Let’s again focus on the average person who goes to the gym and spends
an hour stretching, lifting and doing some cardio. A workout should cause you to  sweat, increase your heart rate and your muscles should be feeling the soreness (if you put out in the workout)!. Hopefully, when you are walking out that gym door the feeling is a sense of satisfaction. And now is when you should be thinking about recovery. 

Your goals should be to replenish water and electrolytes that were lost during the workout. You should also be focused on replacing any nutrients lost, such as protein. 

We will break this down for you. What to eat post workout? What are you trying to replace to help your recover faster?

  • Electrolytes: We all sweat when we workout hard and you lose minerals during exercise. Minerals are what keep your muscles, heart and your neurological system functioning properly. If those body functions start to slow down, it may mean you are dehydrated. Get fluids and electrolytes in your body before this happens.
  • Protein: When working out you are trying to keep your lean muscle mass and not tear down your muscles. Protein will help the body repair muscles torn during the workout to keep them healthy and lean. A pre and post workout protein should be strongly considered.
  • Carbohydrates: You need carbohydrates before and after a workout. Carbohydrates help restore your energy and they also help in the facilitation of other nutrients.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Foods: We produce oxidative stress when we workout. This is normal. But if there is a way to reduce oxidative stress after training hard it might be through foods such as beet juice or beet powder, omega-3s, tumeric/curcumin and even supplements that show a reduction in oxidative stress. 

What foods are considered good post-workout foods? Lets mention:

  • Protein; turkey, eggs, Greek yogurt, Nuts such as almonds, pistachios, cashews. Protein shakes or smoothies.
  • Hydration drinks - and lots of water!

A Division I women’s soccer team in the Midwest handed out small cartons of milk to all the players after every game. They were required to drink the carton within 20 minutes after playing. That was their way of getting protein into the girls for recovery. 

Today, there are several other sources to get protein into an athlete’s body after a game - not just milk.

Why Does Your Nutrition Pre and Post-workout Matter?

When you feel good during and after a workout you are much more likely to keep wanting to exercise - and thats a good thing! But there may be more physical reasons to  calculate what you eat before a workout and what you eat after a workout.

The American College of Sports Medicine says, “Adequate food and fluid should be consumed before, during, and after exercise to help maintain blood glucose concentration during exercise, maximize exercise performance, and improve recovery time.”(1)

We have discussed the importance of eating carbohydrates and protein after a workout.

One study looked at the effects of consuming protein and carbohydrates given to athletes and the effects it had on skeletal muscle regeneration. They looked at thirty-five participants who ran 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) and then consumed either a protein/carbohydrate shake, a meal of white bread and sour milk cheese, or nothing. The results showed that taking carbohydrates and protein by shake or food was preferable, as it reduced exercise-induced skeletal muscle damage and had anti-inflammatory effects.(2)

The body can have unfavorable consequences when it comes to dehydration. When exercising we lose water through normal bodily functions and if we don’t replace that water and electrolytes, you may experience increased body temperature, altered metabolic function and cardiovascular strain. You must maintain adequate sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium after sweating these nutrients out. Pre and post workout drinks are a convenient and beneficial way to take in nutrients and hydration. 

Why Proper Fueling Of Your Body Matters

Think about this - why are you working out? What are the health benefits of continuing to workout? What are the mental benefits of going into a gym? Don’t you want your workouts to improve so you can succeed in improving your times and weights and just feeling that accomplishment? If you don’t fuel your body with what matters, then why even workout? Proper food and staying hydrated is essential for so many reasons before a workout and after a workout. But only you can take action and maybe you need to start today!

(1) Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance [published correction appears in Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 Jan;49(1):222]. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48(3):543-568. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852

(2) Isenmann E, Blume F, Bizjak DA, et al. Comparison of Pro-Regenerative Effects of Carbohydrates and Protein Administrated by Shake and Non-Macro-Nutrient Matched Food Items on the Skeletal Muscle after Acute Endurance Exercise. Nutrients. 2019;11(4):744. Published 2019 Mar 30. doi:10.3390/nu11040744







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