You know that your diet fuels your workouts, but it can be really confusing how much protein and carbs you really need. Here's your breakdown of what to eat - and when - with a few tasty ideas.
Why's it matter what I eat before and after a workout?
During a workout, the body uses energy from the food we eat and energy stores in the body, such as glycogen stored in the liver and fat tissue. During an intense workout, we damage our muscles and bones on a microscopic level. Post workout, it’s important to refuel energy stores and provide the body with fuel to prevent injury, repair and rebuild muscle, and grow stronger.
What should I eat before a workout?
For the best boost in energy before a hard workout, carbohydrates are easier and faster to digest than foods high in protein and fat. The best time to eat ranges from one hour to four hours before working out, depending on the size of the snack or meal and the intensity of the workout. So if you're having a big meal you'll need to wait longer before you take that run or get your squat-thrusts on.
If you have a big event in the morning, load up the night before with a carb-heavy meal. If you’re hitting the gym each morning or are not heading into a high-intensity workout, you may not want to fuel before. New research shows that people who exercise before eating breakfast are more likely to burn stored fat, leading to improved weight loss.
Try: Raisins, a banana, a small handful of trail mix, oatmeal, yogurt with a sprinkle of granola, or a smoothie.
What should I NOT eat before a workout?
Anything loaded with fat, high in protein, or rich in fiber will slow down digestion, potentially causing cramping and bloating that will make exercise uncomfortable.
What should I eat after a workout?
Post workout your body is in recovery mode. To fuel muscle recovery, aim for foods high in protein with a side of carbohydrates such as grilled chicken with vegetables or hummus and carrot sticks. For a popular and delicious post recovery snack, grab a glass of chocolate milk, which contains protein, is hydrating, and refuels carb stores.
Try: chocolate milk, roasted chickpeas, grilled chicken and veggies, hummus with whole grain crackers
How much protein do I really need?
The average athlete needs require between 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight per day to support new muscle development and recovery. One recent study found that those who stuck to the higher range gained an extra 10 percent of strength and 25 percent in muscle mass compared to the controls. More isn’t always better - the body maxed out on benefits at the upper end of the range. So for a person who’s 150 lbs, eating about 120 grams of protein a day would help max up strength. (As a reminder, 4 ounces or one chicken breast has about 40 grams of protein.)
What are some of the worst foods to eat after a workout, and why?
One of the biggest mistakes people make after a workout is rewarding themselves with a “treat” and downing more than they burned. In general, if your workouts are not high in intensity or are no longer than 45 minutes, aim to eat a well balanced meal with protein and carbohydrates 2 to 3 hours after and drink water -- no special protein shake required.