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Pre & Post Workout Nutrition

We often get asked “What should I eat before or after my workouts?”. First, fueling your body with the right nutrients prior to exercise will give you the energy and strength you need to perform better. After your workouts consuming a sufficient amounts of protein and carbs allows your body to properly recover.

Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout

Carbs

Your muscles use the glucose from carbs for fuel. For short- and high-intensity exercise, your glycogen stores are your muscles’ main source of energy. But for longer exercises, the degree to which carbs are used depends on several factors which include the intensity, type of training and your overall diet. As your muscles’ glycogen stores become depleted your output and intensity will diminish.

Protein

Eating protein (alone or with carbs) prior to exercise has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis. One study showed a positive anabolic response after participants consumed 20 grams of whey protein before exercise. Benefits of eating protein before and after exercise include:

  • A better anabolic response, or muscle growth
  • Improved muscle recovery
  • Increased strength and lean body mass
  • Increased muscle performance

The Timing of Your Pre-Workout Meal Is Key

To maximize the results of your training, try to eat a complete meal containing carbs, protein and fat 2–3 hours before you exercise. However, you may not be able to get in a full meal 2–3 hours before working out. In that case, then you can still eat a decent pre-workout meal. However, keep in mind that the sooner you eat before your workout, the smaller and simpler the meal should be.

If you eat 45–60 minutes prior to your workout, choose foods that are simple to digest and contain mainly carbs and some protein. This will help prevent any stomach discomfort during exercise. A good rule of thumb is to eat a mixture of carbs and protein prior to exercise. If you eat fat with your pre-workout meal, then it should be consumed at least a few hours before your workout.

Here are some examples of balanced pre-workout meals:

If Your Workout Starts Within 2–3 Hours or More

  • Sandwich on whole-grain bread, lean protein and a side salad
  • Egg omelet and whole-grain toast topped with avocado spread and a cup of fruit
  • Lean protein, brown rice and roasted vegetables

If Your Workout Starts Within 2 Hours

  • Protein smoothie made with milk, protein powder, banana and mixed berries
  • Whole-grain cereal and milk
  • A cup of oatmeal topped with banana and sliced almonds
  • Natural almond butter and fruit preserve sandwich on whole-grain bread

If Your Workout Starts Within an Hour or Less

  • Greek yogurt and fruit
  • Nutrition bar with protein and wholesome ingredients
  • A piece of fruit, such as a banana, orange or apple

Keep in mind that you don’t need to eat many pre-workout meals at different times. Just choose one of these. For best results, experiment with different timings and nutrient compositions.

Post-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After a Workout

Eating after a workout is important

When you’re working out, your muscles use up their glycogen — the body’s preferred fuel source especially during high- intensity workouts. This results in your muscles being partially depleted of glycogen. Some of the proteins in your muscles can also be broken down and damaged.

After your workout, your body tries to rebuild its glycogen stores as well as repair and regrow those muscle proteins. Eating the right nutrients soon after you exercise can help your body get this done faster. Doing this helps your body:

  • decrease muscle protein breakdown
  • increase muscle protein synthesis (growth)
  • restore glycogen stores
  • enhance recovery

Protein and carbs

Each macronutrient — protein and carbs — is involved in your body’s post-workout recovery process.

Protein helps repair and build muscle

Exercise triggers the breakdown of muscle protein. The rate at which this happens depends on the exercise and your level of training. Consuming an adequate amount of protein after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild these proteins. It also gives you the building blocks required to build new muscle tissue.

Eating protein pre-workout and post-workout has a similar effect on muscle strength, hypertrophy, and body composition changes. Studies have shown that ingesting 20–40 grams of protein seems to maximize the body’s ability to recover after exercise.

Carbs help with recovery

Your body’s glycogen stores are used as fuel during exercise, and consuming carbs after your workout helps replenish them. The rate at which your glycogen stores are used depends on the activity. For example, endurance sports cause your body to use more glycogen than resistance training.

Insulin secretion, which promotes glycogen synthesis, is better stimulated when carbs and protein are consumed at the same time. Therefore, consuming both carbs and protein after exercise can maximize protein and glycogen synthesis. Try consuming the two in a ratio of 3 to 1 (carbs to protein).

The timing of your post-workout meal matters

Your body’s ability to rebuild glycogen and protein is enhanced after you exercise. Recent research has found that the post-exercise window to maximize the muscular response to eating protein is wider than initially thought, up to as many as several hours. Recovery is not just about what you consume directly after working out. When you exercise consistently, the process is ongoing and you should fuel your body accordingly.

Foods to eat after you work out

The primary goal of your post-workout meal is to supply your body with the right nutrients for adequate recovery and to maximize the benefits of your workout. Choosing easily digested foods will promote faster nutrient absorption. The following lists contain examples of simple and easily digested foods:

Carbs

  • sweet potatoes
  • chocolate milk
  • quinoa and other grains
  • fruits (such as pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi)
  • rice cakes
  • rice
  • oatmeal
  • potatoes
  • pasta
  • whole grain bread
  • edamame

Protein

Sample post-workout meals and snacks

Combinations of the foods listed above can create great meals that provide you with all the nutrients you need after exercise. Here are a few examples of quick and easy meals to eat after your workout:

  • grilled chicken with roasted vegetables and rice
  • egg omelet with avocado spread on whole grain toast
  • salmon with sweet potato
  • tuna salad sandwich on whole grain bread
  • tuna and crackers
  • oatmeal, whey protein, banana and almonds
  • cottage cheese and fruits
  • pita and hummus
  • rice crackers and peanut butter
  • whole grain toast and almond butter
  • cereal with dairy or soy milk
  • Greek yogurt, berries and granola
  • protein shake and banana
  • quinoa bowl with sweet potatoes, berries, and pecans
  • whole grain crackers with string cheese and fruit

Make sure to drink plenty of water

It is important to drink plenty of water before and after your workout. When you are properly hydrated, this ensures the optimal internal environment for your body to maximize results.

During exercise, you lose water and electrolytes through sweat. Replenishing these after a workout can help with recovery and performance. It’s especially important to replenish fluids if your next exercise session is within 12 hours. Depending on the intensity of your workout, water or an electrolyte drink are recommended to replenish fluid losses.

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