One of the most common questions I’m asked as a trainer and nutrition coach is: “What should I eat before and after I work out?”
It’s a great question and honestly there is a lot of B.S. out there about what you should and shouldn’t eat before and after your workouts.
A lot of that B.S. comes from people who just happen to be pitching a particular product they are selling, usually backed by some pseudo-science survey their product paid for.
It’s not rocket science, folks. It really isn’t.
When it comes to eating before you workout, there are no hard and fast rules.
Everyone’s body is different, and what works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for the next. What fuels one person’s workout may cause another person to puke all over the treadmill.
While there are no rules, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Timing : One of the biggest struggles is to find how soon before your workout you should consume anything. It comes down to trial and error until you find what works best for you. I’ve found for me that 30-45 prior to working out is my sweet spot. It helps me to have the energy I need without making me nauseous. And in my experience, that timing seems to work well for most people.
Amount: If you’re eating something within an hour of your workout its not the time to go have a five-course meal. Keep it light. For me, I generally consume something between 100 and 200 calories with carbs being the key.
Wait? Carbs? Aren’t they evil?
No friends, they are not, and the BEST time to consume them is before your workout. When exercising your muscles use the glucose from carbs as fuel. In other words your body will try to get the energy it needs from the stores of glycogen in your muscles and liver. No glycogen equals no fuel, which means your workout feels like trying to push you car up a hill because you didn’t put gas in the tank.
What to Eat: Again it depends on you and will take some trial and error. Generally, I recommend a fast-acting carb source with a little bit of protein and fat. This will give you the energy your body needs when it needs it.
-An apple or orange with some cheese (this is my personal go to)
-Banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter
-Rice cake with almond butter
-Whole Grain Bread with a little bit of avocado
-Greek yogurt with Berries (if you can tolerate dairy prior to working out… I can’t)
Water: In my opinion this is even more important than food prior to your workout (especially if you want to avoid the dreaded “bonk”). Nothing kills a workout faster than getting dehydrated during the middle of it. And, if you’re dying of thirst and ready to chug your entire bottle of water in one gulp you’re already behind the 8 ball. I drink over a gallon of water a day so I’m generally well-hydrated, but I ALWAYS have 8-12 ounces of water with my snack and then I try to have 2-3 ounces every 15 minutes or so. Again, it’s best to find out what works for you through trial and error.
Just crushed it during your HIIT class? No matter what you did your muscles are on fire and you need to fuel them…. NOW!
What you consume post workout will have a huge impact on how you recover (a.k.a., how you feel the next day). Want to be able to get up off the toilet tomorrow after having killed it doing squats? Well then you need to give your body the nutrients it requires to rebuilt itself.
It all starts with protein. Protein isn’t just for the muscleheads who eat dumbbells for breakfast and pick up VW bugs for fun.
Whether you did strength training, toning (yes, that means ab work too), or running, you’ll want to consume 15-20 grams of protein right after. Not to get too much into the science, but if you’ve never heard of the anabolic window, it’s time to learn at least a little bit about it.
The anabolic window (sometimes called the metabolic window) is the period just after your workout when your body is looking for the nutrients it needs to begin repairing the damage done during your workout.
Now, there is a LOT of confusing science out there on how long the window is, or if it even exists for that matter.
So much confusion that if you ask 100 nutritionists, you’ll probably get 100 different answers. Ask trainers and you’ll hear everything from it doesn’t’ exist to you MUST eat within 20 minutes to no bruh you’ve got up to 5 hours to refuel.
Ask body builders the same question and get ready to be lectured on the “science” and how you need to consume huge amounts of protein and such.
In my personal experience, there is some truth to the window. I don’t get caught up in the never ending boring debates I just know what works for me (and most of my clients)
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to (or even should) go eat a 16 ounce steak washed down with 3 scoops of protein powder mixed in with your BCAAs, unless of course you’re getting ready to compete against “Ah-nold” in a bodybuilding contest.
For the average person, I have found that the aforementioned 15-20 grams of protein, along with some healthy carbs and fat consumed within 30-60 minutes of working out works well.
–A piece of fruit and a couple of hard boiled eggs
-An egg white omelet with veggies (hello spinach)
-Greek Yogurt with berries
-Grilled chicken sandwich on whole grain bread
What do I recover?
Well, my go to is a protein smoothie. I like to make them using “in season fruits” to both save money and get the maximal nutrition from them. My current fav is a chocolate cherry protein smoothie that is to die for. It’s like having a chocolate covered cherry that’s good for you
Dan’s Chocolate Cherry Protein Smoothie
1 cup frozen cherries ( I buy cherries pit them and freeze them myself but you can buy frozen)
1 scoop Chocolate Protein Powder
1 handful of spinach
1 teaspoon Flax seeds
½ cup ice
6 oz of cold water
I like my shakes THICK as in stand up your spoon thick so if you want them thinner cut back or eliminate the ice and add more water till the thickness you like is achieved.
Give it a try!
Dan Romand is co-owner and operator of Full Circle Fitness-NY in both Colonie and Saratoga Springs. He is a certified personal trainer, and a regular Health & Fitness columnist for TheSpot518.