What Should I Eat Before and After a Workout?

Deciding on what to eat before and after a workout can be daunting. How much is enough? What should you be eating? When should you be eating?

Key takeaways:
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    Carbohydrates, proteins, and hydration are all equally as important when fueling your body before, during, and after your workout.
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    Eat carbs and protein 2 - 4 hours before and 15 - 60 minutes after your workout.
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    Always stay hydrated.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “Adequate food and fluid should be consumed before, during, and after exercise to help maintain blood glucose concentration during exercise, maximize blood glucose concentration during exercise, maximize exercise performance, and improve recovery time.”

That being said, let’s talk about macronutrients, hydration, and how to fuel your exercise.

What are carbohydrates?

In short, carbohydrates are sugar molecules. When consumed, your body breaks them down into glucose. Glucose is blood sugar that your body’s cells, tissues, and organs use as a main source of energy.

There are three types of carbs – sugars, starches, and fiber.

Sugars are the most basic form of carbohydrates. They are found naturally in fruits and vegetables.

Starches are complex carbs, which are made of strung-together simple sugars. Examples of these are bread, pasta, and some vegetables, like potatoes.

The last type is fiber, which is also a complex carb. These make you feel fuller and less likely to overeat. Fiber is typically found in plants, nuts, and beans.

What is protein?

Protein is made of amino acids that help build muscle mass. It can be found in animal products such as meats, nuts, and legumes. When your body breaks down protein, it fuels your muscle mass and helps your metabolism. It can also help keep your immune system strong and your body feeling full.

The USDA considers meat, poultry, eggs, and beans as protein. Alternatively, soy, hemp, and whey are also sources for those who do not eat meat.

The importance of hydration

Water is essential to life. It regulates your body’s temperature, protects your vital organs, and helps your digestive system. Because it is imperative, you must replenish the water you use during workouts. So how much is enough?

You’ve probably heard that you’re supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day. But when you’re exercising, you need more.

The American Council on Exercise suggests drinking water using the following rules:

  • 17 - 20 ounces 2 to 3 hours before exercising
  • 8 ounces 20 to 30 minutes before the activity
  • Another 8 ounces with 30 minutes after your workout
  • 16 - 24 ounces for every pound of body weight lost after exercise

Note that adding sodium is helpful in rehydrating faster.

What to eat before you exercise

To start, consume healthy carbs. Try to avoid saturated fats and even some healthy proteins because they digest slower in your stomach. Eat these carbs 2 - 4 hours before your workout for energy. Aim for a balance of protein and carbs for energy. Think oatmeal or yogurt with fruit and nuts.

5 - 10 minutes before you exercise, eat fruit such as an apple or banana. You want to eat easily digestible carbohydrates. This will prevent you from feeling sluggish. Remember, carbs fuel not only your muscles but your brain.

Next up, consider eating fats. Fat provides your body energy and helps your body absorb vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. Aim for unsaturated fats such as avocado, olive oil, and nuts.

Keep in mind that the more water you drink, the easier your workout can feel.

What to eat during your workout

Continue to hydrate! Consider drinking a sports drink if you’re exercising for more than 60 minutes or in very hot conditions. These will replenish your body with carbohydrates and sodium.

If you’re participating in a workout longer than an hour or a high-intensity activity, eat 50 - 100 calories every half hour, such as yogurt, raisins, or a banana.

Gels are also a popular option while running long distances. If you choose this option, space them out by an hour or approximately 6 to 7 miles, and drink plenty of water.

What to eat after you exercise

Eat 30 - 60 minutes after a workout. You want to consume good carbohydrates, lean protein, and plenty of water to repair, recover and grow muscles.

Protein provides your body with amino acids that build and repair your muscles. Lean protein examples include fish, chicken, eggs, beans, and nuts.

Carbs prevent muscle breakdown. Shoot for complex carbs. These have three or more sugars and are imperative after a workout. They rebuild glycogen stores in your body. Examples include brown rice, whole grain pasta, or bread and milk.

Again, water replenishes electrolytes, sodium, and glucose as you work out. It helps avoid muscle cramps, regulates your body temperature, and removes toxins from your body.

If you can, try to eat high-protein foods 15 minutes after your workout.

In general, always eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole-grain carbs, and healthy fats. But timing is key.

2 - 4 hours before your workout, eat healthy carbs and fat. Eat a piece of fruit 5 - 10 minutes before your chosen activity. During your workout, drink water and add food as necessary. This is contingent on how long you are exercising; add approximately every 30 minutes.

After your activity, try to eat within 15 to 60 minutes. Lastly, remember to always hydrate.

Not eating properly can reduce your muscle mass, lower your bone density, and can cause even more fatigue. You will become more at risk for injuries and illness and increase the time needed for your recovery.

With mindful eating and proper hydration, you can and will be performing at your best!

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