What you eat influences not only your overall health and well-being, but also the quality and effectiveness of your next exercise session. You should therefore aim to eat right and at the right time. Research has shown that diet is instrumental for the success of your exercising efforts, and what we eat immediately before and after our training is particularly important. In this article we will talk about the best meals to eat before and after a workout.
The loose recommendation for a pre/post workout meal is that it should contain some proteins, a combination of complex and fast-digesting sugars, and be low in fat. Here is a general overview of the three major macronutrients:
- Proteins are needed for muscle growth and regeneration and should be in the form of lean proteins (fish, chicken).
- Carbohydrates are needed to fuel the body’s energy needs (a very important aspect when it comes to exercising). Although complex carbs are generally preferred due to their slower metabolism, simple, fast-digesting sugars are also important when it comes to working out. Simple sugars almost instantaneously enter the blood stream and cause elevation of blood sugar (as well as an insulin spike), providing you with the energy you need to exercise vigorously. It is often recommended to combine complex and simple carbs to provide the body with a steady flow of energy throughout your training. Image Credits:www.healthylivingheavylifting.com
- Although fats are limited, you should consume sufficient amounts of healthy fats, such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado. These are essential for hormone production and also provide you with energy.
More specific dietary recommendations depend on the type of your exercise and your specific goals – for example, aerobic endurance versus speed, muscle gain versus weight loss.
3 Best Meals before a Workout
Before a workout, you should focus on providing your body with a meal that is moderate in carbs and proteins, low in fat and fiber, and also contains some fluids. Ideally, there should be an equal amount of proteins and carbs. Avoid foods you are not familiar with; the last thing you want is to consume something you might not tolerate well just before hitting the gym. Also, make it a small meal, more of a snack. It is best to eat about 30 minutes to an hour before your session. This will ensure that the nutrients are available in time for your workout.
- Banana with half a cup of Greek yoghurt: Banana is a perfect pre-workout food. It contains a lot of digestible carbohydrates and is also a rich source of potassium, a very important mineral that supports nerve and muscle function. Combination with yoghurt also supplies the body with some proteins and allows for a light meal that is easy on the digestive system and can prove to be the best pre workout meal for muscle gain.
- Wholegrain bread with sliced up hard-boiled egg: This meal, too, is a good mix of carbs and good quality proteins and is one of the best meals to eat before a workout. Wholegrain bread is a source of complex carbs that will provide you with slow releasing energy. Although eggs received a lot of bad publicity in the past, egg yolk contains a lot of nutrients, including beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and the B-complex vitamin choline. Amongst other things, choline is excellent for brain function.
- Oatmeal with fresh fruits: This is a good and light source of carbs that will get gradually released into your bloodstream as you exercise. Fruits also contain a lot of fluids, supporting your hydration needs. Blueberries are always a good choice – they are antioxidant-rich and have a positive effect on how the body stores sugars.
Before working out, avoid eating fatty foods, such as fried snacks, and don’t get all your energy from simple sugars, for example, chocolates and candies. The latter can result in a glucose (sugar) crush, which will not be beneficial for your practice.
3 Best Meals after a Workout
To know what to eat after a workout to build muscle, you need to know the basics first. After a workout, your energy is depleted. The body is tapping into supplies stored in the muscles, known as glycogen. The used up nutrients therefore need to be replenished in a timely manner. Fast-digesting proteins and complex carbs are preferred after exercising. It is good to focus on proteins as these are needed to help your muscles recover, recondition and grow. Research shows that after a workout, a person’s need for proteins is greater than usual. By providing the body with a source of fast-digesting protein, you will boost the protein synthesis, resulting in the development of muscle tissue. Generally, 10 to 20 grams of protein will suffice for your muscles. To maximize the benefits, it is best to eat as soon as possible after the workout, so consider planning ahead. If we postpone eating by 2 hours, the body’s ability to restore the lost supplies reduces by 50%.
- Sautéed or steamed vegetables (with two teaspoon of olive oil) and grilled chicken – This meal is nutrient dense and will give your body the chance to recuperate as well as it will fill you up. Olive oil helps the body absorb all the fat-soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K) from vegetables, so it is a good addition. It is one of the best post workout food.
- Vegetable omelet with a few slices of avocado – This is another example of a meal rich in high-quality proteins and one of the great post workout meals. It has the added bonus of monosaturated fats from avocado that act in a similar way to olive oil and boost nutrient absorption. Avocado is also a part of a heart-healthy diet recommended by the American Heart Association.
- Grilled salmon with sweet potato – Indulging in this meal will provide you with a perfect combination of protein, good fat and complex carbohydrates. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, salmon contains bioactive peptides that help reduce inflammation in the body, aid joints and regulate insulin levels. Sweet potato helps you replenish the glycogen levels in your muscles, and is an excellent source of beta-carotene, including vitamin A. It is another best meal to eat after a workout.
These were the best meals to eat before and after a workout. Also, remember to eat high-quality foods that will support your body and its metabolism. Try to also include a nutrient rich post workout drink for maximum benefits. Your body is an amazing instrument that needs to be looked after properly if you want it to function in an optimal way.
Beelen, M., Burke, L., Gibala, M., & van Loon, L. (2010). Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery. International Journal of Sport Nutrition And Exercise Metabolism, 20(6), 515-532.
Close, G., Morton, J., Hamilton, D., Philp, A., & Burke, L. (2016). New strategies in sport nutrition to increase exercise performance. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 98144-158. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2016.01.016
Wilson, J., & Wilson, G. J. (2006). Contemporary Issues in Protein Requirements and Consumption for Resistance Trained Athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 3(1), 7-27.
About The Author
Halland Chen is an pain management doctor who currently practices in New York at the Vein Institute and Pain Centers of America. With a passion in regenerative medicine, Dr. Halland helps patients alleviate pain and avoiding surgery by allowing patients to heal naturally using the body’s own growth factors and repair mechanisms. He is on the Board of Directors for the American Academy of Regenerative Medicine, whose leadership Directors also come from the Harvard Stem Cell Group and Mayo Clinic. Among his other passions, Dr. Halland travels alongside with tech entrepreneurs across various locations internationally to cultivate new upcoming and emerging technologies, kite-surfing, and writing informative articles to help educate readers.