I’ve mentioned in a previous episode that fitness is like baking a cake. The essential ingredients for this cake are movement, nutrition, recovery, and mindset. But as any baker knows, timing is crucial. When it comes to nutrition, questions about what to eat before, during, and after workouts frequently come up.
These are important questions because the nutrition you derive from food is the fuel that allows you to perform during workouts and recover from them afterward. If you’re fueling your body right, this back and forth between performance and recovery progressively leads to a leaner, stronger, and healthier body.
Nutrition scientists are realizing that when you eat doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference for most people when real changes such as performance gains are measured over longer periods of time.
In this episode, I’m going to provide you with simple and straightforward advice based on the latest research on how to best fuel for your workouts. I’m also going to share with you some of my favorite recipes for meals that are delicious and nutritious that you can quickly put together, all available from our colleagues at Cookstr.
The importance of total daily nutrient intake
Before we delve into recommendations about what to eat before, during, and after your workouts, it’s important to note that scientific knowledge about exercise nutrition has deepened over the last decade. As more research has become available, total daily nutrient intake has become more important than the timing of intake for athletes and active individuals alike.
In other words, the question of whether your total energy needs are being met should be prioritized over questions of timing. Nutrition scientists are realizing that when you eat doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference for most people when real changes such as performance gains are measured over longer periods of time.
That’s not to say that nutrient timing is dead. Nutrient timing is helpful if you’re a weight class athlete, serious endurance athlete, professional bodybuilder, or if you train twice a day.
If you’re like me, and your goal is to get healthier and more fit, nutrient timing may not be that helpful and can add layers of unnecessary complexity. That said, there are still situations where nutrient timing may be important.
What to eat before your workout
If you workout while you’re starved, you simply won’t have the energy for your body to perform and this may hinder your fitness gains.The best time to work out is three to four hours after eating, depending on how large a meal you’ve eaten.
If you work out first thing in the morning, a pre-workout snack of fresh fruit or a glass of juice will give you energy without weighing you down. If you exercise before dinner at the end of a work day, a pre-workout snack of instant oatmeal, yogurt, and/or fruit 30 minutes before your workout are great options.
What to eat during your workout
If you exercise for a long time without eating, you’ll feel fatigue and limit your ability to maintain your workout intensity. If you plan on exercising for less than 70 minutes, you don’t need to eat; just make sure you hydrate with small, frequent sips of water during your workout.
But if you’re doing something like a long run or bike ride, or maybe a couple of back-to-back fitness classes, try to fuel with small snacks every 15 to 20 minutes, preferably from a quick carbohydrate source that is easy to carry, like a ziplock bag of raisins, bananas, or white bread with honey.
For years, it was believed that we should consume fast-digesting protein and carbohydrates within 30-45 minutes after exercise. New research shows that this window is actually a lot bigger than previously believed.
What to eat after your workout
If you don’t feed your muscles and replenish your energy stores after exercise, you won’t have the necessary building blocks for recovery. For years, it was believed that we should consume fast-digesting protein and carbohydrates within 30-45 minutes after exercise.
This was known as the post-workout “anabolic window of opportunity” where our bodies could best use the nutrients for optimal recovery. New research shows that this window is actually a lot bigger than previously believed.
After you exercise, your muscles will be hungry for protein and carbohydrates. To enhance your recovery, eat a post-workout snack or post-workout meal containing carbohydrates and protein within two hours.
Quick and easy recipes for your post-workout meal
I’d like to share with you a few quick and easy recipes for your post-workout meal that’ll provide the nutrients your body needs for optimal recovery. All three of these recipes are available from our colleagues at Cookstr. Cookstr is the world’s best collection of cookbook recipes available online, featuring thousands of recipes from hundreds of the world’s top chefs and cookbook authors. These recipes are trusted and tested for home cooks, and you can find a recipe for just about any craving or need.
Tofu and Sweet Potato Curry (vegan, gluten-free)
White Bean “Chicken” Chili (vegan, gluten-free)
I picked these recipes because they provide protein, carbs, and veggies. They’re also easy to prepare and taste delicious.
5-Day Nutrition Challenge
Now it’s time to put this knowledge into motion with our 5-day nutrition challenge. Over the next five days, your challenge is to apply what you just learned and notice how you feel before, during, and after your workouts. Give it a try and let me know how you feel by emailing me at email@example.com or leaving me a voicemail at 510-353-3104. Definitely get in touch if you tried one of the recipes!
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.