Did you know that if you are an athlete or someone who exercises on a regular basis what you eat before and after your workouts is just as, if not more, important as your workout itself? The problem is when it comes to nutrition people are usually totally confused about what they should be eating. In this blog, you will learn exactly what and how much you will want to eat before and after a workout and training event to get the best results.
What are you doing for exercise?
Before we dive into the nutrition, it’s important to know what you are doing for exercise. Your nutrition plan, and timing of food, will vary based on the duration and intensity of your activity.
Are you an endurance athlete who is training for a marathon? Are you training to build muscle and plan to compete in a bodybuilding event? Or, are you a daily exerciser who wants to perform well during each session and see results but have no high-level athletic goals? All levels of activity and goals require adequate nutrition for optimal performance.
The intensity of your exercise will be a big factor in when and what you will eat before your session. If you choose to have a lower intensity workout, such as a light walk or yin yoga, you won’t need to eat as much. However; if you plan on running a three to four hour marathon you will need to eat much more!
Think of it this way. If you were going on a 300 km road trip you would need a full tank of gas. However, if you just drive down the street you could get away with being just about on empty. Our bodies are much the same.
According to Larson-Meyer (2007), author of Vegetarian Sports Nutrition, the food you eat and what you drink before a regular exercise session is just as important as before a major event. The food you eat, or don’t eat, will either enhance or hinder your performance. The right nutrition and hydration before an exercise session and event will fuel the brain and muscles, prevent dehydration and help with your recovery after the workout. Without this proper nutrition, all your hard work may be for nothing.
One of the most common questions about nutrition I am asked by my clients is, “what should I eat before I workout?” The simple answer? Carbs, carbs, carbs and water! A meal with just the right amount of fluid, higher in carbohydrates, low in fat and protein will help prevent hunger, low blood sugar and improve performance.
A high-carbohydrate meal (3 to 4 grams per kilogram of body weight) three to four hours before exercise can improve performance, reduce fatigue and restore glycogen stores in the liver for long-term energy.
For example, a 150 pound female looking to sustain energy through her workout and ensure the build up of glycogen stores in the liver would want to consume between 205 and 272 grams of carbohydrates three to four hours before her session. This consumption may seem like a lot so it does not have to be eaten in one sitting.
A sample meal(s) may include:
- 2 slices of whole grain toast with 2 tablespoons of fruit preserves (52g)
- 1 ½ cups of oatmeal with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and ¼ cup raisins (113g)
- 1 cup pineapple (22g)
- 1 large banana (30g)
- 1 cup soy milk (15g)
TOTAL = 232g
If you are planning on doing an early morning workout and you don’t have time to pack in the carbs three to four hours before you can get away with a lighter snack, consisting of one to two grams of carbohydrates per kilogram body weight, 30 to 60 minutes before your exercise session. This meal will be used to fuel the muscles during exercise and supplement the liver stores.
As an example, a 150 pound female who needs a quick snack 30 to 60 minutes before exercise will consume between 68 and 136 grams of carbohydrates at least 30 minutes before her session.
A sample pre-workout snack may include:
- 1 cup oatmeal with1 tablespoon brown sugar (45g)
- 1 cup peaches (30g)
- 1 cup soy milk (15g)
TOTAL = 90g
Some other pre-workout food ideas include:
- Fruit smoothie made with soy milk
- Low-fat granola with coconut yogurt
- Fresh fruit
- Dried fruit such as dates
- Frozen banana ice cream
- Cooked sweet potato
Fasting & Early Morning Workouts
Many people can’t fathom the thought of eating before an early morning workout because it causes stomach upset and nausea, or they’re just not hungry at all. In this case, what do you do? Do you just suck it up and eat anyway?
The research shows that you don’t necessarily have to eat anything before your early morning workouts if you have eaten enough of the right nutrition the day and night before. It will also depend on the intensity of your workout. If you have eaten a high carbohydrate meal the night before, such as a big plate of whole wheat pasta, you are well hydrated and you only plan on having a low-intensity, short to moderate-intensity workout then your evening meal will likely be enough.
However, if you didn’t eat adequate nutrition or drink enough water the day before and you plan of having a high-intensity, or long-duration session or event then you will want to be sure you get up at least 30 to 60 minuets before your session to eat a high-carb snack and drink enough fluids.
Post workout nutrition is often overlooked but is critical to recovery, repair and subsequent performance. Many people tend to finish an exercise session, run out the door to drive home and take their time making dinner. However, this means they’re not eating for at least an hour after their workout. Which is too long.
For optimal uptake of nutrition and recovery of glycogen it’s important to eat a mixed meal consisting of carbohydrates (1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight), protein (between 0.4 and 0.75 grams per kilogram of body weight) and a small amount of fat within 30 minutes after an exercise session or event. It has been shown that a meal consisting of carbs and protein is more effective at replacing muscle glycogen stores than ingesting just carbohydrates and will enhance recovery, repair and building of muscle and other tissue.
Your post exercise nutrition will depend on the intensity of your session and if the next day is a rest or active day. For example, if you ran a two-hour half marathon one day, then plan on running a full four-hour marathon the next, you will want to place priority on replenishing your glycogen stores. However, if you simply do an hour of weight training, your priority will be to a have a post-workout meal that is higher in protein than carbohydrates. Although protein becomes important after a workout you still want a carbohydrate to protein ration that is about two to four parts carbs and one part protein (carb to protein ratio = 2-4:1)
Post-exercise snack ideas that have a proper carbohydrate to protein ratio include:
- 1 apple with 1 tablespoon almond butter (3:1)
- 1 banana with 2 tablespoons peanut butter (4:1)
- 1 tablespoon raisins and 2 tablespoons almonds (2:1)
- ½ bagel with 2 tablespoons vegan cream cheese (3:1)
- ½ cup fruit with 1 cup coconut or soy yogurt (3:1)
- Small tortilla with ½ cup beans (4:1)
Maintaining Adequate Hydration
Pre and post workout hydration is as important as your nutrition and will depend on the intensity and duration of exercise. The body is made up of 50 to 70 percent water and, according to American Council On Exercise (ACE) proper hydration is critical to performance. Adequate hydration helps to hug late body temperature, regulate blood pressure and aids in the movement and transport of essential nutrients.
Following a specific hydration protocol should be consistently followed for best results. Hydration recommendations include:
- Drink 17 to 20 fl oz of water two to three hours before exercise.
- Drink 8 fl oz of fluid 20 to 30 minutes before exercise.
- Drink 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
- Drink an additional 8 ounces of fluid 30 minutes after exercise.
- Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost during exercise.
In conclusion, it is important to have follow a proper nutrition and hydration protocol if you want to perform at your best during an exercise session and athletic event. Exercise alone will help you gain strength and burn fat. However, without the proper nutrition and hydration to support your training you risk suffering from a decrease in energy and performance, slower recovery and an increase in inflammation, which may result in injury and symptoms of overtraining.
Thank you for reading and your interest in this topic.
Until next time,
Wishing you healthy abundance!
Rachel Joy Olsen, BSc. MBA