Ask a Dietitian: What should I eat before and after I work out?

Fueling your body is important if you want to get the most out of your exercise. Whether you’re a Cross-Fit athlete, a yogi, a runner, or a cyclist, follow these dietitian-approved recommendations.

PRE WORKOUT

  • HYDRATE. If your urine looks more like apple juice than lemonade, it’s a sure sign that you are dehydrated. Dehydration leads to low energy, poor performance, muscle cramps and spasms.Drink about two cups of water 2-3 hours before you exercise, and another cup 15-20 minutes before exercising. While you’re working out, aim for another cup every 30 minutes of exercise. Of course, experiment with what works best for your body, but this is a good starting point.
  • EAT 1-3 HOURS BEFORE you exercise. Your body needs time to finish digesting your food before it puts energy into lifting weights or running. So give it time to finish one task before moving on to the next.
  • CARB-LOAD. Don’t be afraid of carbs! They are quick fuel for your muscles. The more you move, the more fuel your muscles need to keep going. Choose naturally occurring simple carbs, like what is found in milk or fruit, and pair them with a protein for a good pre-workout snack.
  • PICK PROTEIN. Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. Choose lean proteins like salmon, baked chicken or turkey breast; or plant-based proteins like tofu, beans, chickpeas, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews.
  • PRE-WORKOUT SNACKS IDEAS. (Note that each of these include a carb and a protein.)* Greek yogurt with chia seeds and/or granola/berries
    * Peanut or almond butter and apple slices
    * Peanut butter and banana sandwich
    * Handful of nuts and raisins (or trail mix of your choice)
    * Fruit smoothie
    * Omelette made with egg whites and veggies
    * Lara Bar
    * Nut butter of choice and toast or rice cake
    * Dried/spiced chickpeas
    * 1 cup of brown rice with 1 cup veggies and 1 serving of tofu or salmon

POST WORKOUT

It’s important that you eat after you work out. If you don’t, you’ll feel fatigued–primarily because of low blood sugar. You won’t build muscle as quickly and you’ll have poor muscle recovery (hello, DOMS). Plus, you’ll have a harder time reaching optimal performance in your future workouts.

  • REPLENISH within 15-30 minutes. Your muscles have just been depleted of nutrients. Consume complex carbs and healthy protein immediately after intense exercise to begin the process of muscle repair and rebuilding.If you can’t eat a balanced meal that quickly after working out, be sure to eat a small snack within 20 minutes, and a balanced meal within about 3 hours.
  • CONSUME COMPLEX CARBS. Complex carbs are best for post-workout because they can be slowly broken down by the body while also replenishing a wide range of essential nutrients.Some good complex carbs include:
    * quinoa
    * whole wheat or seedy breads
    * brown rice
    * whole grain wraps
  • CHOOSE HEALTHY PROTEINS. Need that list again of foods that will help your muscles rebuild? You got it: Salmon, baked chicken or turkey breast; or plant-based proteins like tofu, beans, chickpeas, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews.
  • HYDRATE. Keep chugging that water to replace what you sweat out. Your post-workout food could also include a recovery smoothie, made with fruit and almond or soy milk. Or, chug a glass of chocolate milk or dark chocolate almond milk. Both these options will help you hydrate while also providing essential carbs and protein.
  • RECORD how you feel after your pre- and post- workout meals. What is your energy level? Do you have any GI discomfort? How was your endurance or performance level? Uncover trends and learn to listen to your body tell you what it needs.Daylio is an app that helps you track how foods and activities make you feel and determines trends over time.Pro-tip: Don’t try new foods on big game days/race days since you have not had the chance to experiment with how your body reacts to certain foods and performance!

Summary:

  • Carbs and protein are essential building blocks for snacks and meals
  • Eat a healthy snack 1-3 hours prior to exercising and within 30 minutes post exercise
  • Drink water before, during, and after exercising

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