I get asked the question of what to eat before and after a workout session all the time. First off, I say do what works for you because everyone is different. Some of my early morning clients can't eat anything before their sessions because they will get sick during them, while others need to eat a big meal at least an hour prior. With that being said, here is some information that I've learned while in school and through experience working as a trainer. My best advice is to try different foods at different times and find out what works best for your body.
Prior to a workout you need to consume foods that will fuel your body and give your working muscles the energy they need during your session. Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of energy so go for a meal that is high in carbs before a workout for optimal performance. When carbs are consumed they break down into glucose and enter the muscle cells, giving us the fuel we need for physical activity. Now there are 2 types of carbohydrates, simple & complex, so you need to choose which one you are going to eat wisely. If you only have 30 minutes to eat something before your session, then go for simple carbs, such as fruits, because they are quickly and easily digested. If you are planning on starting your workout 2 hours after eating, then go for a meal with complex carbs. Complex carbs digest more slowly than simple carbs and provide your body with a sustained energy source that will reduce the risk of a crash in the middle of your session.
If you are weight training, it’s also important to add a bit of protein to your pre-workout meal. While lifting weights, we tear our muscle fibers and those torn up fibers heal and grow back bigger and stronger. Consuming protein before a workout will help prevent muscle catabolism (aka muscle breakdown), so if you are planning on lifting heavy weights then eat some protein with your carb of choice.
Avoid foods that are high in fat content before your workout as they digest slowly and can make you feel sluggish. Your body will feel heavier when eating foods high in fats before working out because your body is using energy to digest your food AND to get you through your workout.
It’s also important to take timing into account when it comes to pre-workout meals. If you eat between 30 minutes to 2 hours before your workout you should have the energy you need to get you through your session. If you eat any later than 30 minutes prior, the food that you ate doesn’t have a chance to digest, which could result in low energy, sickness, and/or cramps. If you eat any earlier than 2 hours prior to your session, then your energy sources may be depleted by the time you start your workout session.
Keep in mind that portion size is also important. You also should eat a smaller meal before a workout session and a larger portioned meal to replenish your body afterwards.
Here are a few pre-workout meal/snack ideas:
Banana with peanut butter
Oatmeal & berries
Granola with fresh or dried fruit
Whole grain toast with almond butter
Eating after a workout is important so that you can restore the glycogen that has been depleted and to again avoid muscle catabolism. Protein should be consumed post-workout for faster muscle recovery and to help rebuild the torn down muscle fibers, along with complex carbohydrates to restore your energy levels. You can even add in some simple carbohydrates, such as fruits, to quickly restore your body's glycogen.
Here are some post-workout meal ideas:
Tofu over vegetables and brown rice
Oatmeal with chia seeds, plant-based protein powder mixed in, & berries
Baked sweet potato, sautéed spinach, and black beans
Important note: Always make sure you are hydrated before, during, and after your workout session!!
Thank you for reading, I hope that you find this helpful!