It’s something that plagues us all: how to eat around your workout.
You want enough fuel to last, but you don’t want to be full.
You want to earn that post-burn treat, but you don’t want to ruin your efforts.
And then there’s the issue of a mid-workout snack.
Eating the right types of foods before a sweat session can help you perform at your prime level as much as a post-workout meal can help you recover.
Here, registered dietitian Adena Neglia, of Brown and Medina Nutrition, gives her tips on how to best re-hydrate, refuel and replenish your body.
What you eat before and after a workout can affect your performance and recovery, says registered dietitian Adena Neglia
1. WHEN TO EAT BEFORE
Most importantly, Neglia says: do not exercise on an empty stomach.
Whether it’s your breakfast before your morning workout, or an afternoon or evening snack, it’s important to try to eat at least something small and not exercise on a empty stomach.
You should eat a fuel-boosting snack ahead of time – but wait at least 30 minutes before starting your workout to digest.
‘If you can handle at least a snack, something like a rice cake, it will give you a more intense workout and replenish your body’s energy storage,’ Neglia said.
‘You might not be performing to your optimal energy levels [on an empty stomach].’
That said, she added, if you can’t face food or you’re still sated from a previous meal, you’ll be ok.
‘I wouldn’t recommend forcing food on yourself. And if it’s only been two to three hours since you’ve last eaten, you’re probably fine.’
2. WHAT TO EAT BEFORE
Oatmeal with berries and some nuts, or nut better, is a great pre-workout meal, says Neglia
Carbohydrates are essential to eat before a workout, along with a good quality protein, Neglia says.
Some options include oatmeal with berries and some peanut butter, a fruit such as an apple or banana with a thin layer of nut butter, or some yogurt with muesli.
Since the mid-1930s, dietary carbohydrates have been known to enhance performance, particularly during prolonged exercise.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that if you eat 2,000 calories a day, aim to consume between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates.
One thing Neglia definitely recommends to avoid is having an energy powder pre-workout. Many of them are not regulated by the FDA.
She said: ‘I really believe that your energy can come from your food. People who’ve had these powders have reported experiencing rapid heartbeats, which is not good.’
If you’re feeling like you need an energy boost, Neglia says better to drink a cup of coffee.
3. CAN YOU EAT DURING?
One of the most important things you can be doing during a workout is to drink plenty of fluids, Neglia says.
‘If you’re a recreational athlete, you most likely don’t need to be eating or drinking anything else besides water during a workout,’ she said.
If you’re a professional athlete, or working out for more than an hour, then you may want some fuel during your session.
Unless you’re an elite athlete, you likely don’t need to do much beyond making drinking water, Neglia says
Neglia says things that are easily digestible are what you should be focusing on.
She said: ‘Things like dry fruits or trail mix can be very beneficial, even a gel that you can squeeze into your mouth.’
But one thing none of us should be drinking – especially if you’re not an athlete – is a sports drink.
Neglia said: ‘It’s not necessary, you’re just adding extra calories. Just stick with water and, if you want, you can infuse it with some fruit like oranges.’
4. WHAT TO EAT AFTER
People often think that you have to get a protein intake immediately post-workout.
However, Neglia insists we don’t have to rush; you will still reap the benefits if you get it within the first hour.
A mix of carbohydrates and protein is vital for a post-workout meal. The carbohydrates help to replenish energy and the protein helps repair muscle tears.
One example Neglia offers is a lean protein – such as chicken or fish – with brown rice or sweet potatoes (one fist-sized amount for women and two for men), and some vegetables.
‘I would always recommend having vegetables post-workout because the anti-oxidants and nutrients will help with recovery,’ she said.
Neglia recommends a lean protein, like fish or chicken, with brown rice and vegetables for a post-workout meal
If you’re just looking for a snack, yogurt and hard-boiled eggs are a good option, Neglia said.
Other options include a glass of low fat or two percent chocolate milk. But with dairy products, best to make a snack out of them than a meal so as to not chow down on too many saturated fats.
Neglia also recommends being wary of protein shakes.
She said: ‘If it’s something convenient to have on the way to work, that’s fine. Or one scoop in your water isn’t bad. But if you’re getting it on-the-go, make sure you know what’s going in there.
‘There might be too many servings of fruit or multiple scoops of nut butter. You can have it but not having a protein shake is not going to make you lose muscle.’
As for protein bars, she says it’s important to check the ingredient list.
‘Some are just glorified candy bars, but I understand if you’re running around and you need something quick and on-the-go. It can be helpful,’ Neglia said.
‘But don’t make a meal out of your bar, just have it as snack – ideally under 200 calories. And check to make sure that there’s not too many ingredients you can’t pronounce.’