If you are regularly exercising at this point, give yourself a pat on the back! The hard part is conquered. But did you know that you can help your body work out better/faster/longer/harder if you eat the right foods beforehand? Did you know that you can help your body recover better if you eat the right foods after? It’s true. Read on to find my tips for the best pre- and post-gym snacks.
All exercise sessions are not equal, so you will need to assess your planned workout before deciding what to eat. What you want to avoid, however, is not eating anything at all before a workout. I know there have been some studies out there that show that not eating before exercise has benefits, but I’m just not a believer. Food is our body’s fuel, and your body cannot perform without its fuel. If you just plan on going for a stroll around the block, you probably don’t need to really think about fueling up too much. The first question to ask yourself is how long your workout will be, and what level of intensity the exercise is. If it’s going to be a shorter half-hour session, you can probably get away with something simple and small like a banana. But if you plan on a pretty intense workout that’s going to be 45 minutes or longer, your body will need a little more.
Next, you need to think about the timing of your pre-exercise eating. You want to plan your snack for about an hour before it’s workout time. This will give your body enough time to somewhat digest the food and convert it into energy. Plus it’s just not a great feeling working out on a full stomach, so try to not to eat any closer than one hour before.
The thing to focus on with your pre-gym snack is carbohydrates. These are what our bodies turn into fuel, so without them you’re not going to be at peak performance. This is why you may have heard of elite athletes “carbo-loading” before a big race or event. Now I’m not suggesting a full plate of pasta with a side of bread here, but the right, good carbs to give you the energy you will need to push yourself. (For more info on why carbs are important, see my post from last month here). You definitely want to avoid any fatty foods before a workout. These take longer to digest and will just make you feel sluggish.
You also want to drink lots of water before. One great tip is to make your water really cold to help wake up your insides, especially if it’s shortly after waking up in the morning. There is some evidence that ice-cold water helps boost your metabolism. I don’t know how true this is, but I know that it makes me feel more ready for exercise.
Here are my suggestions for pre-workout snacks:
- 2 slices of deli turkey rolled up on 1 slice of whole grain bread
- low-fat string cheese and whole grain crackers (read the label for 1 serving)
- low-fat yogurt and 1 small piece of fruit (bananas are great energy boosters)
- green smoothie (see OYS’s favorite smoothie recipes here)
- veggies dipped in hummus
A word about protein bars…
Be wary of protein bars and other bars marketed as healthy, nutritional foods. Many of these are loaded with sugar and weird ingredients that are a tell-tale sign of a highly processed food. In some cases, you would be better off chowing down a Snickers bar. Instead, stick to unprocessed, whole foods. If you like the convenience of a protein bar, get into the habit of preparing and portioning out your pre- and post-gym snacks for the whole week.
Your workout is done! Yahoo! Just as with the pre-workout routine, you want to keep drinking water to help restore the fluid loss from your workout. Before you go raid the refrigerator, remember this, just because you worked out does not give you the right to eat whatever you want now. You do not want to go and erase all of your hard work by eating more calories than you just burned off. Now is the time to think about a light snack that will help your muscles recover faster in time for the next workout. The focus this time is on carbs and protein. Again, this doesn’t give you free reign to down a steak and baked potato, so keep it light. Here are my suggestions for post-workout snacks:
- 1 slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter
- hard-boiled egg and a few whole grain crackers
- chocolate milk
The chocolate milk option has been very popular lately in fitness news as a post-workout snack. Because it contains carbs and protein, and replaces fluid loss, it seems to be a good choice as something quick, especially if your next meal is not far away. This gives you the recovery fuel you need without ruining your appetite for dinner. Plus, it’s chocolate!
What are some of your favorite pre- and post-gym noshes?