Have you ever wondered if you need to eat differently when you’re working out? What you should eat before, during and after your workouts depends on your goals. However, unless you are a serious athlete training for a very specific goal, basic good nutrition is generally all you really need and can help you work towards many common goals such as improving performance, gaining muscle, and losing weight.
Since most of us just exercise to be healthy and fit, we’ll focus on those basic nutrition strategies for now. First, what should your pre-workout nutrition look like? Within the three hours before your workout you’ll want to eat something that helps you sustain your energy, boost your performance, preserve muscle, and speed your recovery. You also want to make sure you are properly hydrated.
The most important macronutrients to get before your workout are protein and carbohydrates. Protein will help you maintain or increase muscle size and can reduce some muscle damage caused by exercise, allowing you to recover faster. Carbohydrates will fuel your exercise and help you recover. One common misconception is that you only need carbs prior to your workout if you are participating in a long endurance activity. In reality, even when participating in shorter, higher intensity exercise like CrossFit, carbs will help you perform better in your workout. They will also help you recover better afterwards.
Depending on when you work out you have a couple of different options for eating prior to your workout. The first option is to eat a regular balanced meal of carbohydrates, protein, and fat 2-3 hours before your workout. If you do not workout very early in the morning, this is the best option. You’ll want to make sure you include quality whole foods as much as possible. For example, if you go to a CrossFit class at 9:00am you could eat a breakfast at around 6:30am to best fuel your body for your upcoming workout. If you’re a woman, your breakfast may look something like this:
a fist sized portion of spinach
about a handful of oatmeal cooked with a low-fat milk or milk alternative
about a thumb-sized portion of almonds on your oatmeal
If you’re a man, you would double that.
If you work out early in the morning, you may not have the time to eat a full meal a couple of hours before your workout. In this case, you can either have a smaller meal (about half what you might have at a regular meal), or an even better option would be to have a liquid meal like a shake as that will digest faster and you don’t have nearly as much time to digest prior to your workout. Here is one of my favorite shakes:
1 scoop of vanilla protein powder
a fistful of spinach
a handful of frozen mixed berries
about a tablespoon of walnuts
8oz low-fat milk or milk alternative
You blend all this together and you’re done! This is a great option for before an early morning workout and you can even put everything in your blender the night before and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to go in the morning.
Next week we’ll talk a little bit about how and when to eat after your workout.
If you have more specific questions about workout nutrition or just nutrition in general, come and ask us! We’d love to help you learn how to best eat for your goals!