Many people don’t realize how truly important pre- and post-workout nutrition is. In fact, many people purposefully work out on an empty stomach or even worse, they don’t refuel the body after a grueling session. Regardless of whether you work out solely to build muscle or your goals are simply to tone up and/or lose weight, learning how to fuel your body properly before and after your workout is essential if you are to meet your fitness goals.
How Do Our Muscles Work?
To understand why pre- and post-workout nutrition is so important, we must first go over how our muscles work within the body. Although we often take it for granted, our muscular system is arguably one of the most important body systems because of its wide range of responsibilities and capabilities. In fact, it would be virtually impossible for us to do anything without our muscles.
For example, your ability to talk, and articulate and express your thoughts accurately is due to the muscles of your larynx, mouth, and tongue. You wouldn’t be able to write without the muscles in your fingers, hands, and arms. Even your heart is composed of muscle, which involuntarily contracts and keeps the heart pumping blood efficiently throughout the body.
Muscles are also incredibly unique in that they are a sort of “sophisticated” body part that can repair itself and “learn” and grow stronger the more it is used. Have you heard of “muscle memory?” This is just one example of the sophisticated nature of our muscles, where they “remember” various actions and can perform them for us almost involuntarily. Plus, when our muscles are damaged or overworked, they can heal themselves, and they grow stronger as a result.
Essentially, our muscular system is responsible for turning the energy in our bodies into motion, voluntary and involuntary.
What Are the Best Pre-Workout Foods?
Now that you have a basic understanding of how the muscular system works and why it’s so important, let’s go over the best foods to eat before working out. Most health professionals agree that the most important fuel source for your body pre-workout is carbohydrates. This is because when we consume them, they are broken down into glucose, which then enters muscle cells and is used for energy. If your glucose levels are depleted before or during your workout, you may experience fatigue, nausea and/or muscle weakness.
Experts suggest eating simple carbohydrates before a workout because they are broken down and digested quicker, which means they can become a source of energy much more quickly. It’s typically recommended that you eat your pre-workout snack 45 to 60 minutes beforehand, so your body has time to process it effectively.
If your fitness goals primarily revolve around building muscle, it’s a good idea to include a small portion of protein in your pre-workout meal.
Here’s a great pre-workout smoothie recipe with healthy, simple carbohydrates that are sure to amp you up during your workout (the optional ingredients can be added for those who need to have a little extra protein):
- 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
- 1 banana
- ¾ cup almond milk (unsweetened or sweetened, based on personal preference)
- Optional: ½ cup plain yogurt (partial or full-fat is best for the extra boost of energy)
- Optional: 1 scoop protein powder
Other great pre-workout foods include:
- A piece of fruit (such as an apple, orange or banana)
- Greek yogurt (because it contains carbs and protein)
- A piece of toast (opt for whole or multi-grain bread varieties whenever possible)
What Are the Best Post-Workout Foods?
Now that you have an idea for what pre-workout foods to eat, let’s go over the basics for post-workout meals. Exercise typically places a great deal of stress on the body, including the muscles. This is why it’s incredibly important to refuel your body properly after exercising. It encourages and helps facilitate the recovery process.
After a strenuous workout, your body may feel weak, tired and/or sore. While these symptoms can be annoying and hindering at times, they serve as a signal to our brain that fuel sources in the muscles have been depleted and need replenishing. Eating the right post-workout meal can make the difference between needing a day or a week to recover fully.
That said, the most important nutrient in your post-workout meal is protein. Protein will help your muscles repair themselves more quickly and will give you a solid boost of energy. You should also consume a few complex carbs in that meal to refuel your body and replenish your energy faster.
In addition, depending on how intense your workout was, you may want to eat your post-workout meal sooner rather than later. For example, if you performed a high-intensity or strength training-based exercise routine, you should aim to eat your post-workout meal sometime between 30 and 60 minutes after you’ve completed the workout. If it was low-intensity or shorter than 60 minutes, you likely can just wait until the next meal.
Here is a great recipe for a protein-filled post-workout meal in the form of a delicious egg and spinach omelette:
- 3-4 eggs (swap for egg whites if you are trying to cut back on fat)
- ½ cup chopped spinach
- Optional: ½ cup any additional vegetables you desire
Other great post-workout meal ingredients include:
- Lean proteins such as fish, turkey, and chicken
- Brown rice
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By now, you should have a better understanding of why you need to feed your body properly pre- and post-workout. For your body to perform at optimum capacity, it needs to be sufficiently fueled before you exercise and refueled afterward so muscles are able to repair themselves more quickly.