To feel your best and get optimal results during your fitness journey, working out is only part of the equation. It’s important to also make sure that you’re fueling your body with the right food and hydrate at the right times to complement the hard work you’re putting in at the gym.
That’s why we’re here. The certified trainers at Performance Fitness Training have outlined a full guide on what to eat and drink before, during, and after each workout. Read on to make sure those hard-earned sweat stains don’t become a wasted effort!
What to Eat Before a Workout
Research has proven that consuming carbohydrates before exercise can improve your performance during a workout and can contribute to a longer duration or higher intensity. An empty stomach could leave you feeling lethargic and unwilling to push yourself to your full potential. On top of this, fueling your body properly before hitting the weights can reduce the risk of muscle damage, as it will keep your muscles from breaking down.
The perfect pre-workout recipe? Low in fat, moderate in protein, and high in complex carbs. Deciding what to eat and how much is largely dependent on your schedule.
For a Snack
If you’re only able to eat within an hour of beginning your workout, choose foods that are simple to digest and contain mostly carbs with some protein to avoid any stomach pain during exercise. Some perfect examples include:
- An energy bar or low-fat granola bar
- Fresh fruit, such as a banana or apple
- A fruit smoothie (Pro tip: Steer clear of store-bought smoothies. Many contain high amounts of added sugar. Use protein-rich yogurt, fruit, and water or ice to keep you hydrated for an energy-boosting solution from your own kitchen)
- Whole grains, such as crackers
- A sports drink or diluted juice
- Trail mix (containing healthy raisins, nuts, and other ingredients versus candy-filled options)
For a Meal
If you’re able to eat three to four hours before you’re “slated for sweat”, you can expand on the foods above for a larger meal. To get the best results of your training, make sure to incorporate carbs, protein, and fat. Here are some examples:
- A quinoa salad
- A whole wheat bagel
- Boiled eggs and whole wheat bread
- Oatmeal (feel free to add raisins, banana, figs, and honey)
- A peanut butter (and jelly, if you’d like) sandwich
Should You Drink Pre-Workout?
Another common topic of discussion within the fitness space involves the debate around pre-workout supplements. Oftentimes, these are in the form of powdered substances that you mix in water and drink before exercise.
Pre-workout supplements are advertised to boost energy levels and athletic performance during a workout, but it’s important to be cautious when considering adding these to your routine.
Primarily, make sure to read the ingredients of a supplement before taking one. Caffeine is proven to boost and stimulate sports performance, but make sure to balance it out with the cappuccinos you’ve had throughout the rest of the day and not overload your system. A 2020 review on caffeine concluded that “you’d likely need to take between three to six milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight (that’s 204–408 mg of caffeine for a 150-pound person) for it to work as a performance aid.” As you’ve most likely heard, everything is healthy in moderation.
Studies have also shown that other ingredients commonly contained in pre-workout supplements can have positive effects on a workout, including:
- Creatine monohydrate
- Beetroot juice
- Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB)
If there are other ingredients listed in the supplement you’re considering, make sure to do some further research on them. For example, deer antler velvet is not something you want in your pre-workout, as it has been linked to various safety issues.
Even with the ingredients that are safe, pay close attention to the amount in each serving. It’s recommended to avoid any supplements that contain more than 100% of your recommended daily allowance of any one nutrient.
Lastly, make sure to verify that the product is certified through a third-party regulatory body, such as NSF or Informed Choice.
The moral of the story? You don’t need to take a pre-workout. But they can certainly help (with a safe product) on the days that you’re “just not feeling it”. It’s best to first focus on your fitness foundation—like eating enough to meet your body’s energy requirements, hydrating properly, taking rest days, and getting enough sleep—before looking to supplements to get the most out of your exercise plan.
What to Eat After a Workout
After exercise, your body will need to recover and replace its glycogen stores. If possible, it’s best to eat foods that contain both carbohydrates and protein within two hours of your workout. Depending on your schedule, here are some ideal post-workout foods to ensure you recover properly and will get the most benefit from your hard work. The focus is on heart-healthy fats, protein, and whole grains:
For a Snack
- Chocolate milk (full of water, this drink also contains the ideal ratio of carbs to protein—nearly 4 to 1—to help you refuel and build muscle)
- Greek yogurt
- Fruit (blueberries, in particular, can help with any muscle inflammation brought on by exercise)
- Protein shakes
For a Meal
- Scrambled eggs and whole wheat toast
- A whole-grain turkey wrap
- Salmon with sweet potato
- Chicken, brown rice, and vegetables (skinless chicken breast provides high amounts of vitamin B-6, helping to boost your immune system)
How to Hydrate During a Workout
You can’t forget to hydrate! Water should be your go-to drink to fuel your body before, during, and after a workout. Here’s how much you should consume during each phase:
- Before exercise: 2 to 3 cups
- During exercise: 1/2 to 1 cup every 15 to 20 minutes
- After exercise: 2 to 3 cups for every pound lost during exercise (to find this out, you can weigh yourself before and after your workout)
In addition to water, sports drinks can be helpful to refill your balance of electrolytes and give you energy if you’ve exercised for more than one hour. But they’re never a direct substitute for water.
The Cherry on Top: A Certified Personal Trainer
Ready to tackle the best possible workout AND nutrition routine designed for your exact needs and goals? Performance Fitness Training’s team of certified personal trainers is ready to cheer you on every step of the way, including helping you fuel your body with the best foods and drinks to get the results you’re looking for. Contact us today for a free consultation!