When it comes to pre and post workout meals, you may find yourself asking “do I really need to eat that?” and the answer is YES. A pre-workout meal is meant to fuel you up to give you enough energy to power through your workout, and a post-workout meal is essential for allowing your body to recover in order to get stronger the next time around. Up until recently I never really paid attention to what I was eating before and after exercising, but in the past couple of years I’ve become more aware of their importance and the impact these meals can have on your physique and overall wellness. Since we’ve already covered one aspect of your pre and post-workout prep with “Stretching: Dynamic or Static?” let’s have a look the next step with closer look at nutrition.
Having a solid pre-workout meal can have a huge impact on how much effort you are able to put in to your workout, but it can be a bit tricky to figure out what to eat and when to eat it. This really depends on the time of day that you exercise and how much time you actually have prior to getting started. If you’re like me and you workout first thing in the morning, there’s usually a bit of a time-crunch from when you wake up to when you start working out. In this instance what I do and what I suggest you do is to try to give yourself 20-30 minutes prior to exercising to eat a little something that’s fast digesting like a fruit or juice (no added sugar juice of course). If you have more time or if you workout later in the day, then you can have a little more leeway and have a meal that’s a bit heartier, about 1-2 hours before. Eat a meal that’s a mix of complex carbs, protein and a little fat; the complex carbs are slow digesting so they’ll give you energy and stay with you a bit longer than their simple counterparts, the protein will help you build muscle and the fat with allow your body to feel satisfied and to absorb all the nutrients of your meal. Aim for equal parts of complex carbs and protein with a little fat.
Here are a few examples for your pre-workout meal:
- Wild rice with grilled tofu and a mixed green salad drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice
- A sandwich with grilled seitan, hummus and veggies with olive oil on sprouted grain bread.
- Oatmeal with berries and walnuts with a sprinkle of cinnamon
For your post-workout meal you need lots of nutrients, fast; here you want to focus on fast digesting carbs and lean protein, try to avoid fats and anything with a very high fiber content as well as they are slow digesting, so almonds, oatmeal and kale are a no-no. Opt for a macronutrient ratio of 2 to 1 for carbs to protein. This may sound odd but your post-workout meal is the only time that it’s actually beneficial to consume sugar; now don’t go crazy and pile on the ice cream and chocolate here, a little bit goes a long way. The reason why sugar can actually help you is because when you exercise you actually create microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, and simple carbs (namely sugar) are what help you repair the damage and build more muscle to make you stronger and more toned than before. This is the one time when you should include simple carbs in your diet (apart from the occasional treat meal of course), for example white bread, pasta, potatoes or rice, or straight up regular sugar (1 tablespoon is plenty), but don’t forget the protein, this is what will also help you build muscle. The best time to consume this meal is 30 – 60 minutes following your workout.
Here are a few examples for your post-workout meal:
- A protein shake: mix 2 cups of juice with 1 scoop of protein powder (or skip the juice and have a fruit, mix the protein powder with water or non-dairy milk)
- 1 cup of grilled tofu with 1 baked potato and 2 tablespoons of salsa
- Low fat yogurt with fruit and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
You may not always have to be super strict with this, don’t turn your whole life upside down and stop everything just to have your post-workout meal; sometimes things will get in the way and your timing will be off or maybe you just don’t feel like having a protein shake, and that’s ok, be realistic and patient with yourself; you don’t have to be perfect every single day. Just be sure to eat something and keep yours meals healthy and balanced; if you happen to have a sandwich with sprouted grain bread following your workout instead of white, it’s not the end of the world, just try not to do this every time as it can impact your body composition and recovery. I personally love my post-workout meal because it’s the one time apart from treat meals where I eat something out of the ordinary that can actually benefit me.
Getting in shape and taking care of yourself is so challenging, so why not make your life easier by eating the right foods at the right times, that way you get the most out of all of your efforts. I keep hearing in fitness circles that being in great shape, whether from weight loss, maintenance or muscle building is 20% exercise and 80% nutrition. This just goes to show the impact proper nutrition has on the way you look and feel. Combining both fitness and a healthy diet are the key to your success and lead to lifelong empowerment. So fuel up, workout out hard and enjoy that well deserved recovery meal!
Start It, Finish It
*As always, be sure to consult your healthcare provider for further information.