Good morning! Hope your week is off to a great start. One thing I look forward to at the start of every week is mapping out what types of physical activity I plan to do, mixing it up depending on what else is on the schedule (and what times I need to wake up!). Aside from preventing injury or boredom, this helps give some structure to my week and builds in much-needed “me” time. I thought today I’d talk a little about what to eat before and after workouts.
I know I don’t talk about exercise much on this blog, but I definitely feel that having a safe form of physical activity in your life that you enjoy is key to overall wellness. Balancing a nourishing diet with a type/amount of exercise that suits our personal needs can help us feel (and yes, look) like the best version of ourselves.
In a perfect world, we’d be able to exercise at the time of day we prefer, but sometimes you have to fit your workout into a busy day. For people whose schedule leaves them with few choices besides grabbing something quick at a fast food spot, there are actually some decent options out there. I’m quoted in Muscle & Fitness magazine this month in an article called “The Ultimate Fast-Food Survival Guide,” sharing a few suggestions.
Whether you’re eating at home or on the go, there are a few basics to keep in mind to help you choose smart snacks and meals to fuel and recover from your workouts.
If you have a few hours before your workout, enjoy a balanced meal that includes high-quality carbohydrate and lean protein. If you’re planning to start moving within an hour or two, just be mindful to avoid high-fiber and fatty foods, as these digest slowly and may make you feel sluggish while exercising.
So what should you eat? Short answer: whatever works for you. For example: Even though it’s high in protein, I like a plain yogurt (Siggi’s, if you must know) with a little cinnamon and maple syrup before the 7:30 yoga class I go to sometimes. It keeps me just satisfied enough to get through until I’m able to eat a real breakfast around 9:30, after a shower. If I’m jumping right out of bed and hitting the cardio or weight machines, I might keep it simple with a handful of berries or a few pieces of dried fruit, maybe a slug of coconut water if I have some handy. I’ll be totally honest, though—if I’m working out at 5, I’m really not ready to eat anything, so I’ll usually hold out until afterwards to put something in my mouth—except water, of course. My point is that it’s really all about what feels good for you.
Here are a few suggestions of what to eat before exercising:
- A slice of toast with hummus and/or a scrambled egg white
- A piece of fruit and a tablespoon of nut butter
- A fruit-and-nut bar
- Half a baked sweet potato with a a teaspoon of nut butter or coconut oil
- Half a turkey sandwich
- Oatmeal with fruit and a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup
- A simple smoothie: Try 1/2 a banana, 6 oz milk of choice, cinnamon, and ice. If using almond or coconut milk, add a little protein powder
- 1/4 cup of trail mix
If you’ve got less than an hour before hitting the gym, keep it light with something that will give you a serving of carbs to give you energy to power through. For example:
- Half a banana
- 1/4 cup of dried fruit
- A small granola bar
- Half a protein bar
- A slice of toast with a teaspoon of jam/fruit preserves or honey
Ideally, a recovery meal should be consumed within 2 hours post-workout, but don’t make yourself crazy over timing—what’s most important is that you eat something before you hit that point of no-return “OMG I’m so hungry and exhausted and just want to curl up here on the sidewalk and cry.” I’ve seen clients feeling like they need to be chugging souped-up smoothies or eating fancy protein bars after a workout, not thinking that they may be going above and beyond their basic nutrition needs and undermining their efforts to, say, reach or maintain a healthy weight.
Again, I’m a big supporter of going with whatever feels like the right choice for your body, but generally speaking, a good meal to eat after your average gym session or class would include fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean protein, and heart-healthy fats. Research suggests that a 3:1 ratio of grams of carbs to protein can help maximize protein uptake and glycogen repletion. In everyday math, that means that the 30ish grams of carbs and 10ish grams of protein in a peanut butter sandwich in this classic example a cliche for a reason.
A few post-workout meal ideas:
- Oatmeal with ground flax, fruit, and 2 tbsp nuts or 1 tbsp nut butter
- A veggie omelet and whole wheat toast
- A small whole wheat wrap with egg or egg whites and veggies
- Greek yogurt with fruit and honey and almond slivers
- A smoothie with fruit, milk (maybe protein powder if using a low-protein milk) and high-fiber add-ins like kale or spinach, chia seeds, or nuts
- 1/2 cup brown rice or quinoa with veggies and a serving of meat, fish, or an egg, plus 1/4 of an avocado or a teaspoon of tahini
- A sandwich made with whole wheat bread and lean protein such as turkey, ham, or chicken
If a snack is more realistic, here are a few suggestions:
- A bowl of cereal with milk
- A protein bar
- A piece of fruit and a hard-boiled egg
- 1 cup grapes and 1 ounce cheese
What are your favorite pre- and post-workout meals and snacks?