As a dietitian, one of the most common questions I get is “What should I eat before and after a workout?”
And while on the surface it seems like a “cookie cutter” answer should apply, it’s not always THAT straightforward depending on the athletes and specific activities.
That being said, there are some common “themes” that apply for pre and post workout nutrition, whether you’re a weekend warrior or a seasoned veteran, skiing the alps, on the RIP Trainer or after crushing a 30 minute workout on the straps.
First, don’t skip the carbs.
Carbohydrates are fuel for your “engine” (e.g., your muscles). And the harder your engine is working the more carbs you need to keep going and going and going. Kind of like the Energizer Bunny.
So the follow up question is then -- how soon before I workout should I eat? And the answer?
As a general rule of thumb it’s best not to eat immediately before a workout because while your muscles are trying to do their “thing” your stomach is trying to simultaneously digest the food in your stomach. These competing demands will be a challenge for optimal performance. And, even more of a factor ... eating too close to a workout may leave you with some GI discomfort during play.
Therefore in an ideal world, you’ll get some fuel in your body about 1-3 hours pre workout, depending on how your body tolerates fuel during training. This is certainly something to explore during training, but not game day if you’re competing in anything.
Some examples include:
- A peanut butter and banana or PBJ sandwich (light on the PB)
- Greek yogurt with berries
- Oatmeal with low fat milk and fruit
- Apple and peanut or almond butter
- Handful of nuts and raisins (2 parts raisins: 1 part nuts)
Notice that each of those meals aren’t just plain carbohydrate, but also include some protein.
Carbs are the fuel. Protein is what rebuilds and repairs, but also “primes the pump” to make the right amino acids available for your broken down muscles.
Most people solely think of carbohydrates during that recovery period, but protein is just as important.
Post Workout Nutrition
Imagine your muscles like a sponge. When well fueled, they’re like a wet sponge. However, during training you’re using the stored energy (glycogen) in your muscles, comparable to wringing out a wet sponge.
Well, just like a dry sponge can absorb a ton of water ..
... your muscles are like that dry sponge post workout and can better absorb more nutrients.
What to do?
As soon as you can post workout, you want to get carbs and protein into your body. This will give your muscles the ability to replenish the glycogen they just lost through training and help your tired muscles rebuild and repair with the available protein and amino acids.
Depending on the type of training your doing, the amount of carbs:protein should be in the range of 1.5:1 for strength training up to 4:1 if you’re an endurance athlete.
Some examples include:
- Low fat chocolate milk
- Greek yogurt
- Turkey on a whole grain wrap with veggies
The key with all of those foods is that they offer mainly carbs. Some protein. And are all pretty convenient. Personally I like the first two; because they’re quick and easy and in the case of chocolate milk, also hydrate.
Take Home Points:
- Your body needs carbs to fuel your working muscles.
- Protein is there to help build and repair.
- Get a combination of the two in your body 1-3 hours pre workout and within 20ish minutes post workout.
About Christopher R. Mohr, PhD, RD
Speaker, Dr. Chris Mohr is an internationally recognized nutrition expert and one of the nation’s most sought-after dietitians--focusing on helping people of all levels to achieve their goals through high performance training. Dr. Mohr has written hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness for such publications as Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Prevention, Weight Watchers, Fitness and Delta Sky Magazine, among others and is often interviewed as a nutritional guest on national TV, including appearances with Chef Emeril Lagasse, on the CBS Show “The Talk” and the Montel Williams Show. Additionally, Chris served as the consulting sports nutritionist for the Cincinnati Bengals and is a nutrition spokesperson and consultant for General Mills, Johnson and Johnson, Barilla, Nestle and Nordic Naturals, among others. Chris earned a BS in nutrition from Penn State University, an MS in nutrition from University of Massachusetts, and a PhD in exercise physiology from the University of Pittsburgh and is a registered dietitian.