If there is one topic that will get me super excited, it’s the subject of nutrition and real, whole food! Today, I want continue to spread my love of real food and allow it to crossover into my love of fitness with the topic of pre and post-workout nutrition.
For starters, why do we need to eat pre and post workout?
Firstly, eating before a bout of intense exercise helps prime our muscles to push through our tough workout.
Secondly, eating after exercise helps replenish and refuel our depleted muscles and cells. Without the proper nutrition after a workout, we leave our body in a depleted state, which may lead to longer recovery times. In addition, our body may start to break down after several months of improper nutrition after exercise. We may start to notice that our energy is lower and our progress is plateauing as a result. We don't want that, now do we??
Notice that I pointed out the importance of a pre-workout snack before an intense workout. What about a lower to moderately intense workout? Is a pre-workout still necessary?
The answer to that is: it depends. If you are finding that you are getting halfway through your workouts and have no energy left, maybe a small bite of something as a pre-workout may help. Or if you are finding that eating a pre-workout snack is leaving you feeling full and uncomfortable, skip it! Unless you are a serious, intensely training athlete, a pre-workout isn't always necessary.
Now, on the other hand, I do believe that a post-workout snack or meal is critical after most exercise, especially intense bouts of strength training and/or cardio. You must must must refuel those muscles if you want to continue to see progress towards your fitness goals!
However, if you aren’t working at a super high intensity, the size of the post-workout snack will vary greatly. Working out intensely? Bump up that snack! Working out just for pleasure? Keep that snack very small. Simple.
Okay, so now we know why and in what situations pre and post-workout snacks are needed, but when should we eat? And what should we be eating??
No worries; I have all the answers for you, plus real food examples!
For starters, I recommend eating your pre-workout snack (if you have decided that you need one) about 30-90 minutes before your workout. This allows your body to digest and get that energy ready to be used!
The perfect pre-workout snack contains a mix of healthy fat and protein. Need some examples? Don’t worry, I have you covered:
Pre-Workout Real Food Examples
Fat: avocado, olives, coconut oil, almond butter
Protein: chicken, seafood, lean meat, eggs (which are perfect, because they contain a nice balance of fat and protein!! A win-win situation)
On the other hand, post-workout fuel should be consumed within 30-60 minutes after exercise has ceased. You don’t want to eat too soon, as your body may not be out of its sympathetic state yet (which is the state our body enters when we exercise) and into the parasympathetic state (which our body enters when we are calm, relaxed, and ready to eat). But, you also don’t want to wait too long to give those muscles what they desperately need!
What a perfect transition: what do our muscles need post-workout anyway?
The short answer? Protein and carbs! After working out, it is essential that your get an approximate 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein. The protein helps rebuild your muscles after they’ve been broken down because it contains amino acids, and the carbohydrates help replenish your depleted glycogen storage (stored energy). Also, try to keep the post-workout snack as low in fat as possible, as fat slows digestion, which is awesome, but just not after exercise. We want to get fuel to our muscles as quickly as possible, which is where carbs and protein come in! Don't worry, you can eat healthy fat all other times of the day!
Now, like I mentioned above, the size of this snack or meal will vary depending on your exercise intensity. Keep that in mind as you look at my real food examples:
Post-Workout Real Food Examples
Carbs: sweet potatoes, red potatoes, white potatoes, plantains, bananas (side note: fruit isn’t the ideal post-workout carb source because it is high in fructose, but will do if that’s what you prefer!)
Protein: chicken, seafood, lean meat, egg whites (save those yolks for later!)
My final thoughts – listen to your body. The more you train and the harder you train, the more important pre-and post-workout nutrition become! Don’t try to make it more complicated than it needs to be; consume a mix of protein and fat pre-workout and a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein post-workout.
And, if you take just one thing away from this post, please please please remember that it is essential to refuel your body after working out! You can’t expect to run your body to the ground after a tough workout and then not refuel it or fuel it with crap (aka sugar and junk food and fake protein supplements).
Think about it: you wouldn’t refuel your car with diesel when your tank is empty, right? You would fuel it with the fuel it’s meant to use! The same holds true with your body: fuel it right, and it will thank you for it!
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Please let me know - I'd love to help you in any way I can!
Image Source: Stupid Easy Paleo