After having an amazing sweat session at the gym, nothing sounds more enticing than a reward in the form of some delicious and usually fattening food. But before you lovingly extend your fingertips to that cheeseburger, it is important to understand what you treat yourself with pre- and post-workout is very important in helping you reach your fitness goals. What you eat before can determine how successful and effective your workout will be and what you eat after the gym may be the most important food you eat all day!
What happens to your body?
When you workout, your body is using energy from the food sources that you may have eaten before the workout. After that, it will start tapping into your stored glycogen (molecule stored in the muscle cell) for energy. You want to feed your body enough fuel to prevent it from using your hard earned muscles as the energy source.
Fueling correctly is a key component to invested time at the gym. You can eat all the junk you want, but if you are serious about losing fat and building muscle, then you need to be serious about your pre- and post-workout food choices. Below are some of my favorite choices:
Pre-workout food: Think “Fuel Food”
Carbohydrates, protein, timing, and hydration.
Many people freak out about the word “carb” and automatically think it is the worst thing to eat if you are trying to be “healthy.” Through my own fitness journey and research, I have learned that carbohydrates are not actually as bad as we think.
Remember: carbs = energy.
Our bodies need energy to work out as effectively as possible. When we eat carbohydrates, they break down into glucose (sugar) that is carried throughout the body before it is absorbed by our muscle cells to produce energy. A good choice of carbs to eat prior to your workout are slow digesting (complex) carbohydrates so that the energy that you need for a killer workout will last longer.
Now, you don’t want to feel sluggish before your workout so portion control and timing are crucial. If you are eating a meal, then you should wait at least an hour before you workout, but if it’s a snack, then make sure you eat it at least 30 minutes prior to the workout. In addition, adding a fast-digestive fuel to help kick-start your workout will also be beneficial.
As the building block of new muscle growth, protein is also a key component for your pre-workout fuel to help put your muscles in an anabolic (muscle growth) state. It is recommended to have at least 20 to 40 grams of protein before a workout. Below are some pre-workout food ideas:
- Half of a packet of instant apple & cinnamon oatmeal with an orange
- Ezekiel toast (or wheat bread slices) with 1/2 tablespoon of almond butter & plain greek yogurt with blueberries or strawberries
- Low-sodium cottage cheese with frozen berries on top
- One cup of chocolate milk
- Two graham crackers with 1 tablespoon of peanut or almond butter
- Two hard boiled eggs with 1 slice of Ezekiel toast or wheat toast
- A protein rich shake/smoothie (frozen berries, spinach, protein powder, almond milk)
- One whole wheat pita with hummus & grilled veggies or a boiled egg
- Omelet with 1/4 of an avocado and a slice of toast
- Brown rice *white rice if you can’t digest brown rice (1/2 cup) and Black beans (1/2 cup)
Post-workout food: Think “Recovery Food”
After your workout, you want to refuel your glycogen FAST because you have burned the muscle glycogen during your workout and you need that glycogen/glucose to generate ATP (transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism). Any amount of glycogen depleted during a workout should be replenished in order to assist muscle growth. In order to allow your body to successfully perform this, you should consume fast-digesting carbs within at least the first 30-minute window post-workout.* Below are some post-workout food ideas:
*I personally always have a protein shake post workout and have added a simple snack that is high in the glycemic index to assist my body with recovery and replenishment.
- Whey protein shake blended with frozen mixed berries
- Rice cake(s) with almond/peanut butter and banana slices on top
- Wheat bread or 2 slices of Ezekiel toast with peanut/almond butter and strawberries on top
- Boiled eggs with pita bread and a sweet fruit
- Peanut butter and banana smoothie
- Low-fat popcorn with one scoop of chocolate whey protein sprinkled on it
- Chocolate milk (try to go for non-fat chocolate milk)
- Baked sweet potato fries
- Bean and rice burrito on whole wheat tortilla
- Almonds and an orange with whole grain crackers or toast
Lastly, to have an effective workout, it is very important to consume a sufficient amount of water throughout the entire day in order to have optimal performance during your workout. During your workout, water is lost through sweat, so to prevent dehydration, make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day, before, during, and after your workout. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends about 14-20oz of water at least 2 hours pre-exercise, 16oz 15 minutes pre-exercise (if tolerated), 6-12oz every 15-20 mins or 16-32oz every hour during the exercise, and about 50oz for every kilogram (2.2lbs) of body weight lost post-exercise. I technically don’t “calculate” this, but I do drink about a gallon or so of water throughout the entire day and also generally get my fluids back via protein shake, liquid BCAAs, foods and water that I eat/drink before, during ,and after my workout.
The most important take-away from this post is to understand how much the food we consume can affect our fitness goals. You don’t want to become a workout fiend and never fully reach your goals because you’re not eating correctly. So remember, what you eat before and after you work out matters – and stay hydrated, fit friends!