Ahhh the age old question: “what should I eat before and after workouts?”
There are SO many opinions, thoughts, research, and science to answer this question, and here’s my answer in short: IT DEPENDS.
When it comes to exercise nutrition in general, it depends what type of exercise you’re planning on getting into before we can talk about the most optimal foods before and after. For example, if you’re doing to do a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout with your heart-rate elevated for an intense but quick period, your body will crave more carbohydrates than if you were to go on a long, endurance run that would require more fat for fuel over time.
To address the different ways we can fuel our bodies before and after different types of workouts, I’m going to break this down into 3 different categories: Muscle Building, Endurance Training, and High Intensity Training.
Keep in mind with these pre + post-workout suggestions that you should also be consuming full meals 2-3 hours before and after exercise on top of these suggestions. Proper fuel around workouts is NOT just about the 30 minutes before and after a workout, but throughout the rest of the day as well. The body can take 12-24+ hours to recover from an intense workout, so proper fuel extends far beyond the 30 minute window. Note that consuming fats are best 2-3 hours before or after workouts and not 30 min pre/post workout.
Muscle building exercises typically look like a lot of muscle fatigue/strain with little cardio. This type of training has been my go-to at my local gym, Platform Strength, and I’ve been loving it! The pre/post workout sharing in this category is pretty identical to what I personally follow:
- Pre-workout: 30 minutes before it is helpful to consume easy-to-digest protein and carbs to aid in the digestion and absorption of glucose and amino acids. It is said that 70-75% of the snack should be from carbohydrates, focusing on low-glycemic foods such as bananas, gluten free bread, berries, apples, etc. and 20-25% should come from easily digestible protein such as nut butter, nitrate free deli meat, leftover protein from dinner the night before, and so on.
- Post workout: It’s important to get a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein within 30 minutes after a strenuous weightlifting workout. This helps to replenish lost glycogen stores and helps to build the muscles you just spent time breaking down. Remember- muscles grow AFTER the workout! A great option post workout would be a smoothie with 50 grams of carbs and 25 grams of protein. See the recipe below for my FAVORITE post-workout smoothie!
Endurance training typically looks like 30+ minutes of active movement with your heart rate at relatively the same rate throughout the entirety of the exercise. This usually falls somewhere between 70-75% of your max heart rate, which looks slightly different for everyone. For me personally, my max heart rate is about 190 so my endurance training rate would be around 133. We’re getting a little technical here, but I think we all know what endurance training consists of: Running, indoor/outdoor cycling, jogging, walking, swimming, hiking, and so on. Since we are holding the heart rate at a consistent yet relatively high level, we have the ability to tap into our fat stores over time if we are fat adapted- meaning our metabolism can easily switch from burning glucose as primary fuel to burning fat as primary fuel. Fat isn’t always a great pre-workout option, but something like MCT or coconut oil can be a great, quick fuel for distance training.
- Pre-workout: Be sure to get some complex carbs that will offer long-lasting fuel (longer than simple carbs) like sweet potato, squash, pumpkin, or even gluten free bread with some almond butter or coconut butter. Another addition that can be super helpful is some protein and even a little bit of fast-burning fat like coconut oil, MCT oil, bulletproof coffee, and so on.
- Post-workout: With endurance training it is suggested to hit about a 4:1 ratio with carbohydrates to protein intake after workouts. So if we consume 80g of carbs after a super tough endurance training session, we should consume 20 grams of protein. A really great supplement to help hit these ratios is called the Sport Recovery Drink Mix from Skratch Labs that you can find at Natural Grocers.
High Intensity Training
High intensity training often times looks like a short workout time but with a lot of intensity and spikes in heart rate. This could be a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout class, crossfit workout, bootcamp class, or anything that is spiking the heart rate above 70-80% of your max. These types of workouts require plenty of glycogen stores and therefore require more carbohydrates before the workout. You can think of carbs as the kindling on a fire- burning quick and fast. With HIIT training, your body requires fuel that will match that intensity and short length of time, so carbs are the perfect fuel ahead of time and for recovery to replenish those glycogen stores.
- Pre-workout: Aim for a decent amount of simple carbohydrates- something like a banana, piece of gluten free toast (I love canyon bakehouse from Natural Grocers!) with raw almond butter, an apple, white rice, rice cakes, and so forth. Adding some fat and protein can make things more delicious, but can also slow down the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream so be sure to have more carbs than other macronutrients.
- Post-workout: This post-workout snack to refuel is pretty much the same as the weightlifting post-workout suggestion. I would encourage you to consume a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein to replenish lost glycogen stores. See recipe below for a great option!
My favorite post workout smoothie:
- 1 cup frozen Natural Grocers organic blueberries
- ½ of an organic banana
- 1 cup organic spinach
- 1-2 cups of Organic Malk- found a Natural Grocers (nut milk)
- 1 scoop of vanilla collagen- many brand options at Natural Grocers
*This post is sponsored and paid for by Natural Grocers, a local grocery store I visit frequently and truly love! All opinions are my own.