What Foods Should I Eat Before And After an Exercise Workout?
It’s often difficult to know what foods we should be eating before and after a workout, and at what time. There are endless options when it comes to pre and post workout snacks and supplements, each with their own reported benefits.
Without getting too tied up in specific products, here we hope to give you an understanding of why pre and post workout nutrition is necessary and how it can impact your capability to achieve your goal.
Your pre workout meal largely comes down to preference and what your goal is. If you train in the mornings you might find it difficult to stomach an early breakfast and instead choose to exercise in a fasted state. This can be especially beneficial if your goal is weight loss as it can increase your body’s fat burning capabilities.
However if your stomach is rumbling and you feel a little weak because you haven’t eaten in hours (which is more likely to be the case before an afternoon or evening gym session), a pre workout snack might be the best way to top up your energy so that you can train at your peak.
The key to eating before you work out is to make sure you have enough energy to fuel your exercise without going overboard and consuming unnecessary calories. Most people have enough stored energy in their bodies to fuel a 90-minute workout without needing to consume extra food.
It usually requires several continuous hours of high-intensity endurance exercise before you might be at risk of running out. Adequate nutrition and hydration are the best tools for preventing yourself from hitting the wall.
It's best to rely on your daily meals to give you enough quality nutrition so that you have energy to burn when it comes time to train. Once you’ve identified your goal and the calories needed to achieve it, your breakfast, lunch and dinner should be providing the bulk of all your energy and nutrient needs.
In terms of timing, it’s generally recommended to wait 2 to 3 hours after a full meal before you exercise. If that isn’t feasible for you and you need an energy top up closer to the time, a pre workout snack between 30-60 minutes before exercise will help. A mixture of fast and slow burning carbohydrates will be useful here, such as toast with honey, oats, a banana, fruit smoothie or some yoghurt with granola.
The exception here is if your goal is to bulk, as you always want to endure that you are in a calorie surplus. Intense weight training burns a lot of calories and you want to keep your system topped up with nutrients to give you the strength to lift heavier, helping you to grow bigger muscles. You should look to fuel your strength training workouts with carbohydrates and protein, with an emphasis on protein. Some examples could be protein shake, brown rice with chicken, a peanut butter sandwich with honey or a SwoleFoods Swole range meal.
The priority for a post workout meal is to replace the glycogen used, repair the muscle tissue and replenish the lost fluids and electrolytes during exercise.
Simply put, good quality carbohydrates and lean proteins in the right amounts are what you should eat post workout. The quantity and timing will vary depending on your current body size and composition, the intensity of your exercise and your goals.
If your goal is to gain muscle and you train with high intensity, it is generally recommended to consume between 20 and 30 grams of protein and 30-40 grams of good carbohydrates after your workout.
This combination of macronutrients works in two ways – with the protein helping to repair and rebuild damaged muscle fibres, while the carbs return energy (glycogen) to the muscles.
If moderate exercise is more your style and your goal is to get in shape, a well-balanced meal with a smaller amount of good quality protein and carbs is a great way to keep you feeling energised.
The post workout meal doesn’t have to be super complicated with shakes and supplements, nor does it have to be expensive. Here are a couple of examples of foods that can be enjoyed after a great workout:
- Eggs on toast
- Peanut butter and banana
- Yoghurt with granola
- Fruits and nuts
- Chicken sandwich with tomato and avocado
- A Swole Range meal if you are trying to gain muscle, or an Active Range or Low Carb Range meal for weight loss
The other key component to post workout nutrition is hydration. When you exercise you tend to lose fluids and salts through sweat, with the amount lost dependant on the intensity and duration of exercise.
Making sure that you drink plenty of water after you train will help you to rehydrate and recover. Drinks like coconut water are a great way to replenish lost electrolytes after a long, sweaty session.
Timing Your Meal
Exactly when you should eat is largely up for debate, with some suggesting eating within 30 minutes post workout, and others suggesting at some point throughout the day. It is also heavily dependant on your goals and the type of exercise that you are performing.
If you are weight training with a goal of increasing muscle size, it is generally recommended to eat as close to the end of your workout as possible to maximise your anabolic window – referring to the short time after training in which your muscles are repairing and recovering.
After weight training, your body is in an anabolic state, which causes a range of cellular processes that facilitate muscle repair and growth. By consuming protein and carbs after training you help to fuel these processes.
If weight gain is not your goal and you simply want to refuel and recover to tackle the rest of your day, eating within an hour after exercise should be fine.
There is no hard and fast rule around nutrition timing. Some people find that they simply aren’t hungry after a workout, while others don’t have time to eat until later.
The most important factor in your post workout meal is not so much the timing of it but just generally making sure that you are eating the right nutritious foods for your goals.
As with anything in life, there is no one size fits all solution. Finding which foods work best for you will be a journey of discovery, one that will lead to fulfilment of your goals once you get it right!
We’ve given some basic guidelines as to the things to look out for and we hope that you find them useful. Feel free to follow them if you find that they work for you, and change things up if you find that they don’t.
If you’re finding meal prepping to be a workout in itself, our range of high protein, well balanced meals are designed to save you time while providing the right nutrition for your needs.
Why not get started with one of our Starter Packs, featuring 2 flavours from each of our Swole, Active and Low Carb ranges, and see which serving size feels right for you.
If you would like to discuss how each range might assist you in achieving your goals, feel free to get in touch with us and we'd be happy to talk you through it.