What to eat before and after a workout

Have you been telling yourself this is the week you’ll start exercising? Do you sometimes skip a workout because you’re too tired in the morning or afternoon? Do you ever feel drained halfway through your walk, run or exercise class because you’ve run out of energy?

As a health coach, people often ask me: What do I eat before I exercise to make sure I have enough energy to get through? What do I eat after my workout to recover? These are important questions, because what you’re eating could be sabotaging your workout results! A one-year Stanford University study of 350 men and women found that those who worked out three to five times a week for 30 – 40 minutes had NO significant weight loss! How can that be? It’s due to what, when and how people eat before and after their workouts. Filling up with the right fuel at the right times is essential to keeping your energy up, your workout performance high, and your body in fat-burning mode.

What to eat before a workout

As a general rule, you want to eat about half the calories you expect to burn during your upcoming workout. Eat 1 ½ to 2 hours pre-workout, and your meal should consist of:

  • 60% good carbs (about 40 grams)
  • 30% clean lean protein (10-15 grams)
  • 10% healthy fat (less than 10 grams)
  • Note that the percentages may vary based on the level and length of your workout.

Good carbs fuel muscles and enable peak performance. They also keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable during your workout. Clean lean protein prevents the breakdown of muscle for fuel, and gives your muscles a head start on recovery after exercising.

Healthy fats help balance blood sugar and ensure that fat-soluble vitamins are delivered to your cells so your body can use them. Healthy fats also keep your joints lubricated and they slow digestion, allowing for sustained energy and longer workouts.

For morning exercisers, here are some examples of a pre-workout breakfast:

  • Organic oats topped with walnuts, berries and half a banana
  • A protein smoothie

For afternoon or evening exercisers, here are some examples of a pre-workout lunch:

  • Steamed vegetables with quinoa
  • Lean protein and vegetables
  • Soup and salad

A balanced meal one to two hours before your workout might be all you need. But some people need a small snack about 30-45 minutes before a workout for an energy boost. Snack examples include: a banana, a smoothie or a natural bar. You want clean, fast-digesting carbohydrates, little protein, very little fat, so the fuel is available during your workout. And all meals and snacks should be accompanied by water.

What to eat after a workout

After your workout is a time for your muscles to rebuild, repair and recover. You should refuel within 15-30 minutes of your workout, and your post-workout snack should have more protein than carbs if you are strength training, and more carbs than protein for cardio exercise.

If you take the time to prepare for your workout – beginning with water in the morning and eating consciously throughout the day – you’ll find that you have the energy to exercise better and longer, and that helps you reach your goals!

My top 3 tips:

  • If you work out first thing in the morning, you will want to have your snack before your workout and your breakfast meal after.
  • The larger the meal/snack, or the more fat and protein it contains, the longer you will need to properly digest before exercising. If you consume too much food, or food high in fat, your muscles will focus on digesting that food instead of on your workout. That can cause stomach upset, muscle cramping and deplete your energy.
  • Stay well-hydrated throughout the day. It won’t work to just start drinking water right before or during your workout. Hydration is an on-going process. If you’re not drinking enough water, you will run out of energy – both mentally and physically.

All with an eye towards supporting your long-term health and wellness!

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