You wouldn’t drive a car without gas, and you most certainly shouldn’t workout without fueling your body with the right foods. By choosing the right ingredients at the right time, you can give your body the energy it needs to fuel your workout, plus the resources to build and repair muscle after your workout.
There is a myth that working out on an empty stomach will help you to burn fat faster. A study that compared cyclists who ate before they trained to those who fasted before they trained proved this myth wrong. Both groups burned the same amount of fat, but the cyclists who hadn’t eaten first lost 10% of their calories from protein that included their own muscle mass. For the best workout results, eat a small meal or snack 30-60 minutes before.
Energy is stored in your muscles in the form of glycogen and protein. When you workout, your body will burn the fuel from your pre-workout meal and break down the glycogen stored in muscles. Fueling your body up with protein and complex carbohydrates after a workout can help rebuild and restore muscle tissue and energy reserves. For 45 minutes after a workout, your body is most responsive to absorbing these carbohydrates and proteins. If you are trying to build muscle, eat within the first 15 minutes after your workout. If you are trying to lose weight or maintain your shape, you can eat up to 45 minutes to an hour after your workout.
What Should You Eat Pre and Post Workout?
There is a perfect combination of foods that will power up your fitness routine. It doesn’t matter if it a pre-workout snack, or a post-workout meal, the formula is the same. Combining lean protein plus complex carbs is the ticket to a successful fitness routine.
- Complex carbohydrates provide energy
- Lean proteins build and repair muscle
1. Bananas with Peanut Butter
Not only are bananas a great source of readily available, digestible carbohydrates to fuel your workout, they also contain potassium, which supports nerve and muscle function. Add peanut butter for a protein punch that can help repair muscles.
2. Protein Oats
Oats are an incredibly healthy whole grain food, full of fiber that will slowly release carbohydrates into the bloodstream. Adding a scoop of vanilla protein powder into your oats makes this a pre- or post-workout meal that will help fuel your workout without making you feel full and sluggish.
3. Chicken and Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are another rich source of potassium to help support muscle and nerve function. Potassium is a mineral that acts as an electrolyte, helping to maintain hydration and cell function. Add equal parts baked chicken breast for the perfect lean protein and complex carb pairing.
4. Greek Yogurt Parfait
Greek yogurt has twice the protein of regular yogurt. Add fresh or frozen blueberries, a fruit that is high in antioxidants that can fight the oxidative stress that occurs after an intense workout, and whole grain cereal for a perfect snack before or after the gym.
5. Protein Pancakes
If you like to workout in the morning, protein pancakes are a great way to fuel a morning session. Cottage cheese, protein powder, and eggs will help give you the protein you need to repair and rebuild muscle, and oats will digest slowly to help keep your blood sugar levels steady.
6. Spinach and Tomato Omelette
An omelette doesn’t have to be morning-only food. This meal will power up your fitness routine any time of day. Lean protein eggs (or egg whites) wrapped around spinach and tomatoes provide more than just a great balance of carbs to protein. Spinach and tomatoes are both good sources of antioxidants that can prevent oxidative stress and free radical damage.
7. Whole Grain Chicken Wrap
Whole grain wraps filled with slices of baked chicken and spinach, bell peppers, and tomatoes – not only is this a satisfying pre- or post-workout meal, it is a portable and convenient alternative to protein bars. Take a wrap with you on your way to the gym, or nosh on one as you are leaving.
8. Tuna and Crackers
Whole grain crackers and tuna can be a perfect meal before or after your lunchtime workout. Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice over your tuna, and avoid the mayo. High fat foods can take up to four hours to digest. You want to make the whole grain carbs and lean protein from the tuna available to your muscles for repair and energy within an hour of your workout, not four hours later.
The last two foods that will really power up your fitness routine are foods that support a good night’s rest. Getting adequate sleep is just as important as the effort you put into your fitness routine if you want to shed fat and build muscle. When you sleep, growth hormone is released that improves muscle recovery and regeneration. During REM sleep in particular, your body is able to restore tissue, replenish cells, and recharge your brain. If you want to see the biggest and best results from your workouts, you will need a good night’s sleep, and these foods will help you do it.
9. Whole Grain Cereal and Milk
A bowl of healthy, whole grain cereal may be the key to a better night’s sleep. Milk contains tryptophan and calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to make melatonin. The optimal time for this night time snack to help you fall asleep faster is four hours before bedtime.
Very few foods naturally contain melatonin, but cherries are one of them. Melatonin is the chemical that controls your internal clock. Drinking tart cherry juice has the same sleep promoting-effect of eating cherries, so a glass of cherry juice in the evening can be just as effective to help you get your zzz’s.