Whether you’re drawn to crack-of-dawn, lunchtime or après-work workouts, knowing the best foods to give your body before and after will make a big difference in your energy level, performance and recovery time. To help you make the healthiest choices, our coaches share their favorite fuel tips so you can stay motivated and meet your fitness goals.
Is eating or not eating before your early morning sweat session best? Some experts believe that you need energy from food before any workout, while other studies suggest there might be more benefit from a fasting workout. Contrary to the myth that working out on an empty stomach will lead to muscle loss, your body will simply turn to glycogen, which is stored glucose in the muscles. You can also train your body to use fat for fuel. Studies have shown that morning exercisers on a high-fat diet can burn more fat and lose more weight with fasting workouts. However, if you’re planning a long distance run or a particularly intense workout, eating a healthy snack before you start is generally a good idea.
Keep in mind, pre-workout meals are not one-size-fits-all. If you’re lifting weights, your body will be able to handle something a bit heavier than if you’re running sprints at the track. And longer periods of exercise may generally require more carbs (skip the bread and pasta and choose the healthy complex kind instead, such as sweet potatoes and winter squash). Take time to experiment to see what works for your body. Some people can have an omelette before heading out for a run, while others have a hard time handling more than a few crackers or nuts. If you’re able to feel good and work hard without snacks and have a healthy, balanced breakfast within one hour of your workout, that’s perfectly fine. But if you feel depleted, light headed or tired, make a light meal or snack your friend.
And what about timing? Make sure to eat two hours before or within 30 minutes of your workout so that the food is either fully digested or not yet processed. If you haven’t eaten anything in four hours or more, it’s a good idea to have a little something, otherwise you’re likely to become hypoglycemic during your workout.
Pre-Workout Snack Ideas
Four super-powered foods have been shown to increase your workout performance on a cellular level: coffee, green tea, raw cacao and grass-fed whey protein. Try incorporating these into your pre-workout meals and snacks and see if you notice a difference.
Mid-day exercise can be tricky if you’re cramming a workout into your lunch hour AND trying to eat a meal. The best case scenario for both lunchtime and evening workouts is having a snack similar to the ones mentioned above 1-2 hours beforehand, and following your workout with a balanced meal within an hour. Failing to eat a balanced and filling meal after a lunchtime or evening workout can make your blood sugar levels dip and lead to overeating and feelings of low energy.
The most important thing to remember about post workout meals is to not over justify how many calories you think you burned and go overboard. Remember, whatever calories you don’t use will get stored as fat. For example, whether you run or briskly walk 2 miles, you are only burning about 200 calories. Eating 1 tablespoon of peanut or almond butter and an apple equals about 200 calories. For 30-45 minutes of cardio, keep it simple with a snack that has a healthy ratio of protein, complex carbs and fiber.
Post-Workout Meal Ideas