Many of us tend to neglect the type of food we consume before or after exercise. Fuelling your body pre-workout enables you to adequately handle the physical stress of training. What and when you eat after exercise is equally as important. While the pre-exercise meal can ensure that adequate carbohydrate stores (known as glycogen) are available for optimal performance, the post-exercise meal is critical to recovery and improves your ability to train consistently. By starving yourself post-exercising, you are losing muscle that you worked so hard to build during your session.
You see, the body is smart. It takes the necessary post-workout recovery from the muscle tissue, and not from fat – fat is the last source that the body uses after all your muscle stores deplete. Yes ladies, unfortunately starving yourself after training is not going to help shrink those hips.
So having an apple before a yoga session might be a good idea, but it might not provide you with enough energy for a marathon training session. Similarly, a high protein and low carb meal after strength training would help repair your muscles, but it might not provide you with sufficient nutrients for recovery following a long spinning class. Here are some guidelines on what to eat before and after different types of workouts:
Before: Running, cycling, swimming…these require replenishment of carb stores. A heavy meal might not be ideal but avocado on toast with a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds will provide the right carbs and fats needed for that energy boost.
After: It’s essential to replenish nutrients that you have depleted without stuffing yourself. A combination of complex carbs, lean protein and vegetables would be your best bet – think brown rice, steamed fish and vegetables. Check out our post on how to create a beautiful breakfast bowl for some great breakfast options.
Resistance or Strength Training
Before: Strength training, such as circuit workouts or powerlifting, tends to be physically demanding. Fuel up with a simple snack of bananas with two tablespoons of almond butter or an apple with some walnuts.
After: Tempted as you may be to overdose on protein, it is vital to consume protein together with carbs to allow the protein to be utilised for muscle growth and repair. Smoothies with whey or a plant-based protein powder are also a quick alternative; blitz together a delicious chocolatey one with cacao, chia seeds, brown rice protein powder, banana and milk.
High-Intensity Interval Training – HIIT
Before: A HIIT workout is no less physically demanding than strength training. The quick, intense bursts of exercise require supplying the body with easily accessible carbohydrates pre-workout. Half a cup of oatmeal with a handful of nuts will keep you energised while ensuring that you’re sufficiently fuelled.
After: Following an intense session, protein balanced with fuel replenishing glycogen is crucial for the best post-workout results. With twice the amount of protein as rice or other grains, quinoa is a smart choice. Spruce up your quinoa with some vegetables and olive oil, and add a side of chicken breast or eggs for a satisfying meal. If you find yourself busting your budget with quinoa, opt for cooked chickpeas or lentils instead.
Before: Imagine doing a downward facing dog or working on your core with a full stomach. Instead of a big meal or even snack before Yoga and Pilates, you might want to stick to water or some natural fruit juice.
After: Your post-workout meal depends on your fitness goals. For weight-loss, choose a light, nutritious snack like a hummus or avocado dip with crudités, or a light vegetable and bean soup. To improve strength, you’ll need a protein boost like a wrap stuffed with grilled veggies, a smashed egg and feta cheese. For healing sore muscles and replenish energy stores, you’ll need some protein with low-GI carbs and fruits or vegetables. A small tub of Greek yoghurt with a few spoons of berries and nuts muesli would suffice.
Other Useful Guidelines
- While it’s important to restock your nutrients stores, replenishing the fluids you lost while sweating is equally, if not more, important. Drink up before, during and after exercise. Replace electrolytes with isotonic drinks or coconut water post-workout.
- If you have a workout session much later in the day, fuel up with complex carbohydrates that are slow digesting and provides sustained energy like pasta, rice or potatoes.
- Don’t overcompensate during your post-workout meals; otherwise you might end up consuming more than you burn. Consider downloading a food diary app like MyFitnessPal to track calories and nutrients consumed.
- Vegetarian? Incorporate some of these healthy plant proteins into your meals to get sufficient protein following a workout.
Mix it Up
Sticking to the same snacks or meal all the time can get boring. Mix it up and tweak your diets, and experiment with different combinations of carbs, proteins and fats. Don’t be too strict with yourself though. A little indulgence once in a while never hurts!
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