What to eat when you work out
Ever been working out and feel like you’ve hit a wall? Or had the best workout ever and wish you could have that feeling every time? It probably had something to do with what you ate and when you ate it that impacted your workout. Different types of activities require different types of nutrition in order to help our bodies power through them. For example, within the three hours before your workout you want to eat foods that will give you sustainable energy, boost your performance, keep you hydrated, preserve muscle mass and speed recovery. Here are some tips that will help you fuel your body properly pre-workout, as well as some tips to help you recover effectively afterward.
LOW INTENSITY SPORTS
Before a workout you want to avoid heavy, slow digesting foods like fat and high fibre veggies that can cause cramps, bloating and gas. More easily digestible carbs found in lots of fruits and veggies (e.g. banana, sweet potato, berries, etc.) are going to give your body an immediate source of energy without having a negative effect on your digestion. Consuming a little bit of protein (for example protein powder in a smoothie) is also a great idea pre-workout. In terms of timing, if you’re having a full meal, make sure you give yourself at least 2-3 hours before the class. If you have less time, stick to a smaller snack like a smoothie, a banana, some nuts and seeds, etc. One of our favourite go-to snacks before a yoga class is banana protein smoothie with frozen banana, spinach, a little bit of almond butter, nut milk and your protein powder of choice. The protein and fat (we’re only talking about a tablespoon of almond butter so still minimal fat) from the almond butter will slow the release of the sugar into your bloodstream, providing a more sustainable form of energy, so that you don’t crash halfway through the class.
With low impact sports and activities like yoga, it’s not as important to eat something specific right away for recovery. What your going to eat will depend more on the time of day. For example, for an early morning class, you’re going to want to fuel your body for the rest of the day with a balanced meal afterward, and if it’s an evening class and you’ve saved dinner for after, you want a lighter meal that will help refuel your body but that won’t ruin your sleep as your body tries to digest it.
HIGH INTENSITY SPORTS
The key to pre-workout nutrition, especially high intensity workouts, is to fuel yourself properly. We suggest eating a moderate amount of carbs (our body’s number one source of fuel) and small amount of protein pre-workout. Again, if you have that 2-3 hour window before a workout you can consume a full meal like oatmeal or overnight oats with berries and a little nut butter, whole grain toast or sweet potato toast with hummus and cucumber or quinoa with veggies or a little chicken. But if you have less than 2 hours, you should stick to something smaller and more easily digestible like a protein smoothie with a bit of fruit like banana, protein powder and nut milk (liquid is always going to be easiest to digest), a banana with a little almond butter or homemade energy balls or granola bars.
The biggest nutritional concern post-workout is replacing energy stores (glycogen, which is our storage form of glucose) and repairing muscles that have been broken down during the intense workout. Again, a combination of carbohydrates and protein has been shown to be most effective post-workout. Research shows that a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein within 30 minutes to an hour of completing a HIIT workout is best for replacing energy stores. Our suggestions for post-workout are similar to pre-workout meals/snacks and can include a protein shake, sprouted grain breads, sweet potatoes, quinoa, oats, long grain rices, small amounts of meat, fish, etc.
We consider endurance activities to be anything from hiking, long distance running to biking – basically anything over 90 minutes no matter the exact exercise.
As we mentioned, carbohydrates (and the glucose they provide us with) are the body’s principal source for fuel. Your body is smart and it stores some of this glucose away for a time of need – this is called glycogen. However, the body’s glycogen stores are limited, and the maximum we can store is 300-600 grams which is mostly found in your muscle cells and liver. This amount of storage allows for up to 90 minutes of activity until that resource of glycogen is exhausted, and at that point you need to refuel in order to keep going and avoid fatigue.
Starchy vegetables are important to include pre and post endurance activity. Great examples include steel cut oats, sweet potato, or quinoa. We also always love smoothies. A great pre-workout smoothie would be lower in fat, moderate in protein and high in carbs, like a smoothie made with almond milk, banana, blueberries, and you can try adding in some nut butter and maca for an extra kick!
Only endurance athletes that will be working out longer than 90 minutes will need to be concerned with having food during their workout. As mentioned before, after the glycogen stores are all gone, in order for your body to keep going at maximum capacity, you will need to refuel the tanks. This is why so many sports gels and bars have hit the market (but please be careful to read the labels and look for ones that are mostly carbohydrates and lower in fibre and fat). Sports drinks are also appropriate for endurance activities and can offer the body some glucose, sodium and potassium. Coconut water for example is considered to be “nature’s sports drink” as it offers all of these essentials in a perfect balance for the body to keep performing optimally.
After a long activity, the focus should be on replenishing all of the glycogen stores your body just burned through, as well as avoid muscle injury. So again, you are going to want to prioritize carbs and protein post endurance workout. Additionally, as a general rule try to drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound you sweat off during your run (you can tell by weighing yourself right before and after).
To sum it up, it’s really important what and when we eat before and after a work-out. As a general rule of thumb, unless you have 2-3 hours before your workout, avoid big meals, or anything that is going to be tough to digest, like a lot of fat or high fibre fruits and veggies. Refueling after a workout, in that 30 minute to one hour window is also going to be very important so that we can replenish our glycogen stores (which we have likely burned through in a high intensity or endurance workout) and to eat some protein to help reduce muscle damage. Please keep in mind that these are general suggestions and that everyone’s bodies are different as our diets. If for example you’re following a diet like the Ketogenic Diet (high fat, low carb) then you are going to of course tailor your pre and post workout meals and snacks to that diet. Always do what works best for your body.