In order to maximize your time spent at the gym, no matter how much time you actually spend there, you need to nourish your body before and after you workout. By this time, hopefully you are seeing food as fuel instead of as comfort or punishment or guilt or whatever else you see food as. All food is just fuel for your body, although some food is like putting regular unleaded into a diesel engine. It just doesn’t make you go and damages your engine.
Before you work out, you need to eat in order to fuel your body, give yourself energy, and maximize your performance at the gym. Also, the right food will help you recover and prepare for your next gym session. It’s best to eat at least an hour before you hit the gym so you can give your body ample time to absorb the nutrients you’ve just fed it. First thing’s first, you want to be hydrated when you get to the gym, so drink 20 oz of water before you go. Drink water as you work out, and plenty afterward. As I’ve talked about in the past, carbohydrates give you energy, so it makes sense that you’d want to include them in your pre-workout snack or meal. You want to consume slow-burning complex carbs such as fruit, veggies, whole grain bread, rice, pasta, and cereals. You also want to add moderate to fast digesting protein to your pre-workout snack. Examples of these are egg whites, low calorie fish, turkey and chicken breast, whey protein and soy protein. If you’re going to be strength training, take in about .1 grams of protein for every pound you weigh, and .2 grams of carbs for every pound. For an endurance cardio workout, .1 grams of protein still works but up your carb intake to .4 grams/lb. If you’re going for a fat burning cardio session, cut out the carbs altogether, but make sure you’re still taking in the protein. A good snack for you would be two hard boiled large white eggs or 1 1/2 oz of canned light tuna. If you’re going to be combining strength and cardio, the .1 gram of protein and .2 grams of carbs is a good rule, but you can go to slower digesting protein such as dairy, beef, and nuts since those workouts tend to go longer.
In general, here are some good pre-workout foods (combine the protein and carbs):
- String cheese
- Trail mix
- Energy bars
- Pasta (whole wheat and allow 2-3 hours for digestion)
- Whey protein blended in water
- 1 1/2 oz canned light tuna
Post Workout Nourishment
If the pre-workout snack was for fuel and maximizing performance, then the post-workout snack or meal is for optimizing the recovery process. Your body now needs amino acids, which it can get from proteins, and it also need glycogen, which is the storage form of sugar that gives your body its energy. Glycogen comes from carbs. So, just like the pre-workout meal, your post-workout meal needs to consist of carbs and protein. Avoid fats, even good ones, because they cause slower absorption of the other nutrients. You need to consume your post-workout snack within an hour of working out. This is referred to as the “Golden Hour” because your body is primed to absorb what it needs. If you are working out to lose weight, you need to eat more protein than carbs, but if you want to enjoy some carbs that you wouldn’t usually eat, this is the best time to do it since your body will not store them as fat.
Here are some suggestions for a post-workout snack/meal:
- Protein shake
- Protein shake with a banana (potassium!)
- Chicken w/ rice or white potatoes (high glycemic source)
- Hummus on a whole grain pita
- toasted bagel w/ almond butter
- dried fruits and nuts
- tuna and whole wheat crackers
- salmon, mashed potatoes (remember, you need glucose, so these are ok) and a salad
- cereal and skim milk
- egg white and spinach omelet
- fruit smoothie
- cottage cheese and fruit
Happy snacking and happy sweating!
Thanks to Alexandra H. for the idea for this blog entry. 🙂