One of the most common questions people ask exercise experts is, “What should I eat before and after my workouts?” The answer to this question is, as you might expect, “It depends.”
Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist at Sharp HealthCare, says, “Pre- and post-workout nutrition can be a useful training tool to boost performance and speed recovery. However, it is not necessarily a main priority for the general population of exercisers who mostly work out for aesthetic and health purposes.”
If you exercise for general fitness and health
Recent studies suggest that if you exercise mainly for general health and fitness and your workouts are typically under one hour, what you eat over the course of your day is more important for body composition, performance and overall well-being than nutrient timing strategies.
“Obsessing over specific nutrients, in specific amounts, at specific times can make your workouts feel like a chore,” says Hays. “Instead, try to schedule your training sessions around your regular mealtimes and focus on the quality of your meals to maximize your workouts and reach your health goals.”
“Life is busy and if you can’t always schedule your workouts around your mealtimes, consider adding a snack 30 to 60 minutes before your workout, especially if it’s been more than three hours since you last ate,” she says.
For your pre-workout snack, choose a balance of carbohydrates for quick energy coupled with protein to protect muscle breakdown and reduce post-exercise soreness. Some pre-workout snack ideas are:
- Mozzarella string cheese with a few whole-wheat crackers
- A banana and 1 tablespoon nut butter
- A handful of baby carrots with 2 tablespoons hummus
- A hardboiled egg with a piece of fruit
After your workout, and if your mealtime is still a couple of hours away, have a small snack within 30 minutes of your workout to replenish glycogen stores and repair damage done to your muscles. This snack should contain a similar mix of carbs and protein, plus a little bit of healthy fats:
- A banana and a handful of nuts
- 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese with a sliced orange
- Small protein shake and a few nuts
- A hardboiled egg with a slice of whole-wheat toast
Importance of good hydration
Proper hydration is important for optimal performance. Although individual fluid requirements vary, it is a good idea to stay well-hydrated before, during and after exercising.