There can be a lot of conflicting advice when it comes to what to eat before and after exercise. Many women tend to scrimp on post-workout fuel, while remembering or finding time to eat before a workout can also be challenging and thus neglected. You may not know that the food you eat before and after a workout actually goes a long way in supporting you during your workout, and helping your body to swiftly recover once you are done. Oftentimes, it’s the small changes in our workout routines that can create a huge impact and help us to reach our goals and get results. How we fuel our body is one of those changes that may just be a game changer for you. Read our pre and post workout fuel tips below that will help you improve your fitness game, get the most out of your sweat sessions and help keep you well-nourished.
Pre-workout fuel is very important when it comes to supporting your body during exercise and recovery. Skipping food before you work out can negatively impact your performance, make you dizzy, nauseated, or lethargic and reduce your overall gains.
While carbs are often considered the enemy for many women, eating carbs before you exercise ensures that you’ll have the energy you need to train! When we eat carbs, they break down into glucose and enter our muscle cells, giving us the fuel that we require to exercise at our greatest capacity. Before a workout, it’s a good idea to eat simple carbohydrates that are digested quickly and easily and provide fast energy to the body such as fruit, oatmeal, dried fruit, rice crackers or a healthy muesli bar.
It’s also important to consume a little protein before your workout—this is especially important if you are doing weight training. Strength and resistance-based training creates natural micro-tears in our muscle fibres. Protein is required to help the body repair those microtears and also to build and strengthen the muscle. Again, before you workout it’s best to go for easily digestible proteins, this could be raw nuts, greek yoghurt, an egg or a healthy protein bar.
When to eat before your workout will depend on what you are eating and what type of workout you are planning to engage in. It’s best to avoid eating at least 30 minutes prior to any workout as your body needs time to rest and digest properly, otherwise you may end up feeling ill! Yet you also don’t want to leave too much time before your workout out so you haven’t used up all the helpful calories you consumed to boost your training performance. As a general rule of thumb, eating between 30 minutes to two hours before your workout is best. Keep in mind we are all unique and you may have to engage in a little trial and error to see what time frame and what foods work best for you.
Lastly, it is also advisable to be well-hydrated before you start to exercise. While it’s easy to remember to rehydrate after a sweat session, being prepared in advance goes a long way towards avoiding dehydration and fatigue. Try to prioritise hydration hours before you start your workout. For obvious reasons, it’s not the best idea to down a litre or two of water and then start your workout! Try being mindful of your water consumption throughout the day, and then top up your system about 20 minutes prior to your workout with a large glass of water. Keep in mind, hydration doesn’t include coffee or soda drinks! While fruit juice and herbal tea can contribute to overall hydration levels, water is always the best way to hydrate prior to a workout. Staying well hydrated will avoid any dizzy spells and also prevent low energy and muscle cramps during your workout sessions.
Some great pre-workout fuel options include:
- A protein-packed green smoothie (Banana, spinach, almond milk and a good protein powder)
- Fresh fruit with nut butter
- Vegetable crudites with homemade hummus
- Greek yoghurt with raw nuts and seeds
- Falafel and salad in a wholemeal wrap (at least 2 hours prior)
- Brown rice sushi with avocado and salmon (at least 2 hours prior)
- Spinach and Feta Frittata and salad (at least 2 hours prior)
Consuming the right nutrients after you exercise is also essential and will help to refuel your body and also promote muscle recovery. Eating after your workout will also help you to maintain your energy levels while also keeping your metabolism burning strong for a longer duration after your workout. Many women tend to skip post-workout fuel as they don’t want to add the calories that have just been expended. While avoiding stopping on the way home for burgers or doughnuts is a good idea if weight loss is a goal of your exercise sessions, refuelling with healthy foods is important and will also prevent you from making negative food choices later on when the body is fatigued.
As mentioned above, during exercise your body uses glycogen for energy which is the fuel stored in your muscles. After a workout, your muscles are depleted of their glycogen stores and broken down. Your body’s ability to replenish muscle stores can decrease by up to 50 percent if you wait even two hours to pass before refuelling.
Experts recommend a combination of 10 to 15 grams of protein and 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates to be consumed within 30 minutes of your workout. Of course, what you eat is also as important as when you eat it! For carbohydrates, think sweet potatoes, rice cakes, oatmeal or dark leafy green vegetables. For protein, think a high-quality animal or plant-based protein powder, eggs, fish or nuts. If you can’t sit down to a proper meal sometime soon after your workout, make sure you have something on hand that you can snack on to provide your body with some fuel and also avoid any dizzy spells from low blood sugar.
If you are working specifically on strength training and doing a lot of weights or resistance exercises, a little extra protein over carbohydrates may be beneficial to help repair and build muscle. Make it easier to reach your fitness goals by rewarding and refuelling your body after each sweat sesh.
Again, last but not least, do make sure to rehydrate after every workout. Replenishing your fluids quickly after sweating is even more important than eating right away. How much water you need will depend on what type of exercise you were engaged in, the duration, the environment, and you own person physiology. Keep topping up on water throughout the day and evening and monitor your body to tell if you are hydrated- making sure your urine is quite clear and not overly yellow is an easy way to tell if you need more H20!
Some great pre-workout fuel options include:
- A protein shake with banana, berries, greek yogurt and protein powder
- Grilled salmon with baked sweet potato and leafy greens
- Poached eggs with sprouted/wholegrain bread and steamed spinach
- Buckwheat porridge with coconut milk, walnuts and mixed berries
- Quinoa Salad with roast pumpkin, chickpeas and herbs
- Fresh fruit or a good quality protein bar if on the run
One last point to bear in mind: if you are looking for specific results from your workouts – such as building muscle, finding weight balance, or training for an event, it can also be helpful to talk to a registered dietician or nutritionist you can help you to create a meal plan that supports your workout routine.
When you are going to the trouble to prioritise your health and scheduling workouts into your week, its good to know that they are working for you too! Try incorporating these tips into your routine and see what a difference it makes to your performance and recovery levels. Happy training!
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