We have all heard it before. Diet and exercise are important parts to being successful in your fitness goals, yet many people still are unsure if it is better to eat before or after exercise and what to eat if they are supposed to eat anything at all!
Now before we answer this question we want to remind you that what works for some people may not work for you. What is most important is you keep your body fueled with nutritious foods to help you work out at the level of intensity you are aiming for and have the fuel to recover when you finish. And as always make sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after any exercise.
It is important to have enough energy to get you through your workout. A pre-workout snack helps give your body the fuel it needs to burn fat, build muscle, and recover. Now there are many people who believe that they will lose more weight by working out on an empty stomach; however, research has shown that the body will burn the same amount of fat whether you eat before or do not. More importantly, you can actually lose muscle if you don’t eat before working out[i].
When working out is important to think of your body like a car. You need to make sure that you have enough fuel to get you from point A to B and if you don’t you will break down and may even cause damage to the vehicle. Likewise, if you work out hard on an empty stomach your body will slow down, causing you to have a less intensive workout and possibly begin to cause damage to your muscles in their search for protein to fuel you. If your goal in exercise is to lose weight and build muscle this can derail your success.
So what do you eat?
I have heard some people suggest that you have at least two meals before you workout and while this is great advice for people who have flexibility in when they workout, it is also not as practical for people who have a tight schedule and have to work out whenever they are able to fit it in. A great second option if you are not able to eat a full meal is eating a pre-workout snack within approximately 30 minutes to an hour before you workout.
The best food you can eat before working out should contain both a complex carbohydrate and some form of protein.
I know I probably heard some of the women protest at the mention of carbs, but here is the thing… carbohydrates are an excellent form of fuel and when you are working out in the gym or going for a bike ride they are actually your friends! Because you will be working out and using the carbohydrates you consumed you do not have to worry about them turning into fat. That process only occurs when you eat too many carbs (especially carbs in the form of sugar) than you need. Only then will your body convert those carbs into fat. Simply monitor the amount of carbs you are consuming and stick to complex carbs like oats, lentils, and whole grain toast, and remember to fuel for your needs (aka if you are not going too intense one day you don’t need as much fuel before the workout, but on a day when you are spending an hour or more doing high intensity you nee more).
Some ideas for a Pre-workout snack:
- Whole grain toast with peanut butter
- Greek yogurt with muesli or other whole grained granola and some fresh fruit.
- Oatmeal with your favorite fresh fruit
- An apple with some peanut butter
- A protein smoothie
- Finally if you like protein bars you can always try your hand and making your own! Here is a recipe for one of my favorite Peanut Butter Protein Balls.
Key Take Aways:
- It is important to fuel your body before you workout to prevent muscle depletion and aid in fat burning.
- Carbs can be your friend, especially before a workout.
- Consume a combination of complex carbs and protein before you workout to fuel your body.
- Prepare your snacks ahead of time to insure the best nutrition.
- Always stay hydrated.
Eating shortly after your workout will help refuel your body of the energy that was depleted during exercise. When you workout and your muscles are broken down, it is important to eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates to kick start muscle repair for those muscles that need to recover and it also helps to keep your metabolism revved up. Many people suggest eating or drinking something packed with protein and carbohydrates just 30 minutes after a workout and research has shown that your body’s ability to restore muscles greatly reduces the longer you wait. So whether it is a meal after your workout or just a simple post-workout snack get some fuel within the next two hours so that you can get back in the gym fully recovered ASAP
As always do not forget to drink water!
- Consume a combination of protein and complex carbs after you work out to help rebuild muscles and rev of metabolism.
- Always stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids throughout and after exercise.
Perhaps you are going for a super long bike ride or run. Maybe you are training for an event or you just like doing that sort of thing. Either way it is important to keep your body fueled during your long workouts as well. Head over to our post: Top Ten: Energizing Snacks for Those “Longer” Rides for more information on snack options for those longer fitness days.
[i] Schoenfeld, Brad MS, CSCS. Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss?. Strength & Conditioning Journal 33 Issue 1; 22-25. 2011.