Have you ever thought about what you eat before and after your workouts?
It’s not just how you work out, but what you eat before and after you work out also influences your body’s ability to fully benefit from your workout.
We’ve consulted with registered dietician, Erin Griffith RD, LDN to share with you the basics of what to eat before and after your workout.
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[The usual disclaimer: We’re not doctors, so the information provided in this post is not medical advice. You should always consult your doctor or registered dietician if you have questions related to your specific medical and dietary needs.]
Carb-loading is real (to an extent).
That plate of spaghetti your mom always made for you before your big middle school basketball game that night wasn’t all for naught. Carb-loading really does give you the energy you need to give a workout your all, but for those of us who aren’t training for a marathon, it doesn’t necessarily mean downing a plate of noodles for dinner before you work out the next morning.
Those carbs are what give you energy in the form of glucose. This glucose hangs out in your muscle cells, giving you energy to go hard at that morning HIIT class (Is Dallas your home? Join us for classes!). According to Erin, “Just make sure you incorporate a carbohydrate source with your meal the night before a big workout or even at breakfast if you plan to do a big workout after work.”
Examples of this would include 1 cup of whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, or beans/lentils with your dinner the night before a morning workout. If you weren’t able to incorporate a carb source at dinner, you can snack on something small before bed to get in your carbs: fruit with nuts, apple and peanut butter, or Greek yogurt (go for the unflavored kind, as flavored yogurt options are way high in sugar) and berries.
If you are working out after work, include a carb source for your breakfast, like 1 cup cooked oatmeal with fruit.
A note on nuts, seeds, and nut butters: the recommended serving size is 2 tablespoons, so be mindful of this so you don’t over consume!
Your muscles need protein.
When you strength train, you’re creating small tears in your muscles—your cells then repair these, thus creating stronger and bigger muscles. But your body needs protein to make this happen.
“The majority of people get plenty of protein in their diet to meet their needs, however, we still want to make sure we are combining the protein with the carbohydrates for adequate muscle rebuilding,” says Erin.
When planning your pre-workout meals, keep in mind that a serving of meat per meal is 3-4 oz.—”about the size of a deck of cards,” notes Erin. You can also get your protein from other, non-meat sources: nuts/seeds, eggs, low fat cheese, and Greek Yogurt (which also has carbs—double win!).
Meal timing is as important as the meal itself.
While you need carbs and protein to make the most of your workout, a full meal right before your workout is going to hurt your stomach more than help it. To fully maximize your workout, you should eat a full balanced meal, including your carbs and proteins, 3-4 hours before your workout. Can’t fit in a full meal? Don’t worry, “a small meal is sufficient to fuel your workout 2 - 3 hours prior,” says Erin. Make sure to incorporate carbs and proteins in your meal, as explained above.
Drink your water.
Seriously though. A workout can quickly sour without proper hydration. (And no, drinking soda does not count as staying hydrated.) Dizziness, nausea, muscle cramping all can happen when you’re going hard at a workout without enough water to keep you going. Though each body has different needs, a good rule of thumb is to start with 2 glasses of water 2 - 3 hours before your workout and then 1 glass of water right before your workout, about 10 to 20 minutes before you begin.
Be sure to stay hydrated during your workout too, especially if you are sweating quite a bit. According to Erin, “Drinking 2 oz [of water] every 15 minutes during exercise will help keep you hydrated during your workout.”
You don’t want to overdo it though, either, as too much water right before intense physical activity can upset your stomach. So don’t down 4 glasses of water right before you walk into your HIIT class.
To monitor your hydration levels, Erin recommends taking a look at your urine color. Your urine should be “light yellow, clear (not cloudy). This is a great sign that you are hydrated, however, just because you see that midday it does not mean you stop drinking. Keep drinking water throughout your day and evening to maintain hydration.”
But don’t go reaching for the Gatorade during your workout; most of us are just fine with water. According to Erin, “Sports drinks are not necessary unless you are losing a lot of fluids through sweat, especially in the heat of the summer. If you are losing 2% or more of your body weight through sweat during your workout, it is necessary to replace those losses with a low sugar sports drink, otherwise, just drink water.”
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Your body needs to eat after a workout, so don’t blow this off as unnecessary! Your post-workout meal should have the same emphasis on carbs and proteins as your pre-workout meal to restore muscle and glucose levels. However, for most average exercising and weight-training individuals, you are fine waiting until your next meal if it is within 1 - 2 hours of exercise; only those who are an athlete or training for something in particular will need to eat immediately after a meal. Otherwise, bring along some healthy snacks (see above for examples!) to tide you over until your next meal.
Another shout out to water: you’ll also need to rehydrate, so re-fill your water bottle and get sippin’!
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