You may put the perfect mix of time and effort during your workouts, but with no plan to fuel and refuel your body properly, you’re spinning your wheels and unlikely to achieve the results you want. The good news is that fueling properly isn’t overly complicated. True, if you’re training for an endurance event, figure competition or competing for a 5K win, you’ll need to be a little more detailed in your nutrition plan, but for the majority of us simply aiming to be healthier and more fit,we can get there by focusing on a couple concepts.
The goal of your pre-exercise meal is to provide fuel needed for your workout and to optimize glucose availability, meaning giving your body easy access to sugar that will be used as instant fuel.
It takes a few hours for your body to process food, so after work/afternoon workouts will be fueled by your lunch or afternoon snack. Early morning workouts will depend on what you ate for dinner/late night snack.
If you’re going for a low intensity, <60 min. workout in the morning you’ll be OK without having anything before hand. If you feel you need something, that’s fine, but don’t stress about waking up way early to cram in some food.
If you do plan to go hard first thing in the morning, have a small snack of simple carbs at least 30 minutes beforehand.
What do I eat?
First and foremost; go with what you know! Many runner’s love bananas for the high sugar content and portability, but if you hate bananas, eat something else! Digestive systems are highly individual so experiment and note how your workouts feel. Never try something new on race day.
Your main goal is to find a relatively high carb and moderate/low protein mix. This will give your body the sugar it needs to keep moving.
Avoid foods with high fat and fiber content to minimize chances of gastric distress. Fiber takes longer to digest which is great for feeling fuller, longer, but will divert blood away from working muscles to help digest, plus you’ll be moving with a full stomach. Not fun.
The goal of your post-exercise food is to replenish the lost glycogen stores (carbs) and promote muscle repair. During exercise you create tears in the muscle fibers, as you rest these tears are repaired primarily with protein and become stronger (ahem, exactly why rest is so important!).
Your main focus should be refueling within an hour of your workout. Your body is primed to put fuel to optimum use so take advantage!
It should be noted, the more intense your workout, the more important this timeframe is.
What do I eat?
Again, a higher carb content is key to replenishing all the glucose you burned during your workout, but a focus on protein during this time is more important than before your workout. Avoiding fat and fiber isn’t as crucial, however if you’re eating immediately after a workout you may want something easier to digest quickly. Healthy fats should be favored over saturated.
In general, a diet full of whole foods with a mix of carbs, protein and healthy fats will support your workouts and recovery. By focusing on what fuels your exercise and what repairs your muscles, your body will be prepared for your workouts and will recover quicker. Plus,by routinely eating healthfully before and after your workouts, you create a healthy eating habit that will influence your choices the rest of the day!
Here are some easy breakfast and snack ideas that contain the elements discussed above. Also included are my go-to recipe blogs and cookbooks when you want to try something new!