by Shelby Burns, MS, RDN/LDN
No matter what your preferred sport may be, pre- and post-workout nutrition is extremely important for performing and feeling your best.
You should eat before your workout if:
When choosing a before- or after-workout meal or snack, timing and food choices both matter and can make or break your performance. Will you be training in twenty minutes, an hour, or three hours? Read on for optimal food ideas based on the timing of your training or practice.
Whether you’re chasing a new PR, training to win a match, or just getting in your daily workout, it’s important to have energy. Sufficient glycogen (aka carb) stores help to provide this energy. Having sufficient glycogen stores allows you to perform at a higher intensity for longer without feeling fatigued. That’s why it’s important to regularly eat enough high-quality complex carbs. If you have more than three hours before your workout, this is a great time to eat a balanced meal that is rich in protein, healthy fats, and complex fibrous carbohydrates. The protein will help to rebuild and maintain muscles, the fat will help keep you full, and the fiber and carbs support gut health and replenish glycogen stores! Here are some meal ideas to get you started:
The focus here should be moderate- to high-carbs with protein and fiber. Because protein and fat take longer to digest, you’ll want to avoid or minimize these foods as you get closer to your workout.
For workouts that are greater than 60 minutes but less than 3 hours out, you’re in a bit of a gray area. This is where that “one size fits all” mentality really doesn’t apply. Some athletes may prefer to go into a workout on an empty stomach. Others prefer to have a snack, because they know that otherwise they will get hungry during their workout (or be ravenous afterward). The best approach is the one that works best for you and allows you to perform at the level you desire!
A pre-workout snack is meant to give you a burst of energy that will get you through your workout. The focus here should be high-carb foods with little fiber, protein, and fat. However, keep food intake minimal or skip it entirely this close to short (less than 45 minutes), intense events or workouts because the body will typically have all the energy it needs to put in the work. Therefore, pre-workout fuel is not required.
These quick-digesting carb sources won’t bog down your stomach while you are working out. They will also help to minimize the likelihood of GI distress.
In order to gain lean muscle, you need to replenish what was lost. Filling your body with healthy post-workout fuel is critical for replenishing glycogen stores and facilitating muscle repair. Aim to fuel with a combination of carbohydrates and protein within 60–180 minutes of finishing your workout. Keep in mind: The amount of refueling needed is dependent on the time and intensity spent exercising. For a slow, low-intensity workout (e.g., walking for 30–45 min), refueling may not be required. For bodybuilders, highly active athletes, and endurance athletes, we recommend refueling with some proper nutrition. Some good options are:
Now that you have a better understanding of what to eat before and after your workout, give some of the above foods a try. Start with small amounts to see how your body responds to and tolerates different foods before and after your workouts. The important thing is to experiment and find what works best for YOU!
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Shelby Burns has been in the fitness and nutrition industries for more than ten years. Shelby, who has personally struggled with gut issues, believes that exceptional wellness starts from within. Her passion for helping people prioritize their health shines through as she assists Ixcela clients in making diet and lifestyle shifts that result in renewed energy, better sleep, and improved digestion.
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