One of the most common questions I get is, “What’s the best food for my workouts?” This is a great question because it has been shown that what you eat can greatly impact your energy and performance, during your workouts. If you are not fueling yourself properly, you aren’t getting the most out of your workout. You may be running on empty or low carbohydrates and thinking you are getting them most out of your workouts but the reality is, imagine how much more effective and efficient your workouts could be if you are fueling your body with the proper nutrients to give you the optimal mental and physical strength during your workouts and the ideal recovery, post workouts.
Let me start by saying that the first question I ask is what are your goals. If you are training for an endurance event your pre and post workout meals may be different than if you are in preparation for a figure or bikini competition or everyday fatloss. You have to first understand what your goals are, in general or for that particular workout.
First, consider your exercise goals. If your plan is to do intense exercise for over 60 minutes, such as running a marathon, biking over 20 miles or even an intense cross fit WOD (workout of the day), it is best to eat something easily digested that includes protein, a carbohydrate and even a fat source, to maintain energy. The idea is to provide enough fuel to power muscles without sitting heavy in your stomach. By eating before a workout, you prevent lactic acid production, which occurs when muscle is broken down and used for calories. Many athletes call this “hitting the wall” where your muscles have lost all their juice and continuing to exercise is just a struggle. If you are on or have been on a low carbohydrate diet, I am sure you know exactly what this “hitting the wall” concept is. Combining high carbohydrate foods (grains, tubers, and fruits) with protein (eggs, lean meats, high quality protein powders) and good fats (coconut oil, nut and nut butters) will help maintain glycogen stores during exercise. I do suggest a fat source when your exercise goals are going to be long, for example a long run, in preparation for a race. The fats will slow down the digestion of the other nutrients, offering you longer lasting energy.
If your goal is to lose weight and your workout is less than an hour or less intense, with rests in between sets, you still want to fuel your body with the proper nutrients but you may not need as many calories as a longer, more intense workout. Post workout, you want to ensure that you replenish your glycogen stores and take advantage of this “window of opportunity” where your body is literally screaming for nutrients. You have worked so hard and depleted your stores and it is essential to feed your body and allow the recovery to take place. You want to ensure you get in your pre workout meal within an hour of your workout and eating your post workout meal immediately upon working out.
I have put together a list of my favorite pre and post workout meal ideas to help you optimize your workouts and therefore help you reach your goals quicker and easier.
Below are a few examples of simple snacks to eat pre workout:
- Apple with nut butter and a protein shake
- Oatmeal with a protein shake and a side of fruit or mini box of raisins
- A bowl of healthy cereal (Kashi Go Lean or Grapenuts) with coconut milk or use a protein shake mixed as your “milk”
- Greek yogurt with fruit
- Turkey roll up on a whole wheat tortilla
- Whole grain bread with peanut butter and a piece of fruit with a protein shake
- Rice Cakes with nut butter and a protein shake
- Fruit Smoothie made with protein powder, fruit and coconut milk or coconut oil
- Handful of nuts with a piece of fruit and a protein shake
- banana bites with nut butter and a protein shake
- Egg whites (any which way) with a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit
- My famous Zucchini Loaf is a great option!
- Oatmeal with pure pumpkin and protein powder
- Whole Grain bread or a rice cake with pumpkin or apple butter and a protein shake
Below are a few examples of simple snacks to eat post workout:
- Egg whites with a yam or sweet potato
- Oatmeal with dates and a protein shake
- Lean protein over brown rice or whole wheat pasta
- Greek Yogurt with fruit
- Tuna or turkey sandwich on whole wheat roll
- Scrambled eggs, toast and fruit (watermelon)
- Oatmeal with raisins and a protein shake
- My famous Zucchini Loaf is a great option!
- A bowl of healthy cereal with coconut milk or a protein shake as your “milk”
- Lean Protein wrap with a whole grain tortilla or pita
- Fruit Smoothie made with protein powder, coconut milk or coconut milk
- Egg whites with whole grain bread or whole grain bagel thin with a side of fruit
- Protein shake with oatmeal and unsweetened applesauce
- Breakfast burrito with egg whites, veggies, black brand and a whole grain tortilla
Many people ask about sports bars and drinks. Are they necessary and okay to have before, during or after a workout? The benefit of bars, liquid gels and endurance drinks should be only used when in preparation for an endurance event where your training sessions are long and you need that quick energy. That is the only time I suggest these products. They can become necessary to get that instant glucose and simple sugars when you are running a 10+ miles and out on the road for several hours. If you are simply going to the gym for some resistance training and cardio, I would never suggest sipping a sports drink such as Gatorade or intaking a Gel Pack pre, post or during a workout. The best drink to replace electrolytes is coconut water. Coconut water is the best drink you can have pre, post or during a workout because it is electrolyte and vitamin rich, keeping you hydrated and replenishing your stores.
A few reminders:
-Regardless of your training goals, it is best to avoid high fiber foods or heavy foods that may cause gastrointestinal distress such as gas, abdominal pain and bloating. Pre workout wouldn’t be the best time to eat a large salad, bowl of veggies or a heavy burger and fries meal. I would keep it lighter and be aware of the foods that sit light in your stomach.
-Remember that high sugar sports drinks are not necessary and recommended unless you are training for an endurance race or event. Even then, your training runs may not call for a sports drink or gel until the actual race day when you are hitting top mileage!
-Fruits are not the enemy! The best time to eat fruit is pre and/or post workout. So many people are afraid of the sugars in fruit. Fruit is higher in sugar but it is natural sugars and there are so many other nutrients you gain from eating fruit. Eating fruits pre workout will give you the quick energy to help you get through your workout and eating fruit post workout, gets immediately shuttled in the muscles, allowing for your body to use the nutrients to help build and repair your muscles. Post workout is actually the opportunity to take in fruits that may be higher on the glycemic index (dates and watermelon, to name a few) because your body needs that immediate surge of energy.
-Water, Water, Water. You want to ensure that you are well hydrated and drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout. It is best to carry a 32-64 oz water bottle with you so you are constantly reminded to get in your fluids.