What to eat before and after a workout
Remember when loading up on bowls of heavy pasta the night before a race was all the rage? It’s carbo-loading we’d say (through a mouthful of noodles). It’s science. And while carbo-loading is still a thing, the science behind the great pre-race-pasta-feast is a little outdated.
And if you didn’t know that? No worries! It’s hard to keep up with the science surrounding nutrition and exercise because it’s always evolving. As in, 2,082 research papers were published on that topic alone last year.
But there’s no doubt: today’s research is better than yesterday’s. (Just ask Tom Brady.) So we did some digging for you. We even got some advice from Boston’s very own fitness-guru-insta-celebrity, Calli Pappas. Who, by the way, won us over with her down-to-earth attitude about nutrition and fitness. And, okay, fine – those food pics.
Here’s what we found.
Find the right balance of protein, fats, & carbs
Eating well before a workout– or just in general really– is all about finding the right balance between the big three macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fats. The big macs, as some people might call them. Or, hmmm…maybe that’s just us.
Here’s a quick overview of the big three:
Protein: Poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, fish. Helps to build, maintain, and repair muscle fibers. Provides a long, steady source of energy.
Fats: Consists of both good fats (like avocado) and bad fats (like butter). Digests slowly which can cause an energy reduction.
Simple carbs: “Bad” carbs like white bread & cookies - though not all are bad, like fruits. Burn fast in the body, causing bursts of energy that peak and drop quickly. Complex carbs: “Good” carbs like oats, sweet potatoes, whole grain pasta, beans. Burn slowly in the body, causing steady, long-lasting energy.
What to eat 3-4 hours before a workout
For short, early-morning workouts, you can skip this one. For those who exercise later in the day, keep this in mind while packing your lunch. And for anyone with a lengthy run or workout on the horizon– this one’s especially for you.
What to eat:
Foods high in complex carbs & protein
What to avoid:
Too many simple carbs or fats
Overnight oats with protein powder (make these appear on your doorstep here!)
Turkey on whole grain bread
Veggie egg white omelet
Whole grain rice and black beans
Grilled chicken and butternut squash
What to eat 30-60 minutes before a workout
Right before your workout, keep it simple. With simple carbs and small portions. You want just enough to give you a burst of energy, but not so much that you’ll feel sluggish and full. Choose simple carbs with natural sugars, rather than refined ones (think: fruit not cookies) for a quick boost of energy without the crash.
What to eat:
Small amounts of simple carbs
What to avoid:
Large portions of anything
Too many fats, good or bad
Calli Pappas’ take:
“A green juice, with maybe one fruit like an apple, is a great thing to drink before [exercising]! The electrolytes and vitamins will help fuel your workout and flush out anything in the AM!”
A piece of fruit - gold star for a banana due to its high potassium levels
½ cup of a fruit smoothie
Beet juice – proven to boost performance and lengthen your workout up to 16%
Non-fat yogurt with berries
What to eat post-workout
Post-workout foods are all about muscle recovery and energy replenishment. We’re lookin’ at you, protein.
While you may have heard that you should eat within 30 minutes of exercising, the latest research suggests that eating within 1-2 hours is sufficient, unless you did a fasted workout.
What to eat:
Lots of protein mixed with complex carbs
A Cobb salad topped with grilled chicken
Peanut butter on whole wheat bread with bananas
Grilled chicken with sweet potato fries baked in olive oil
Oh, and our favorite post-workout suggestion from Calli? TART CHERRY. We found tons of studies legitimizing this tip. Seriously, tons. Here’s one here. And another here. And a third here. Apparently, it’s super helpful in reducing inflammation and aiding in muscle recovery. So let’s all get our tart cherry on!