One of the most common questions I get working as a nutrition coach and personal trainer is “what should I be eating before and after a training session?” There is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Your needs are based on many factors including your size and body composition, goals, and the type of activity you are doing, but where I typically like to start is by breaking it down into macronutrient recommendations. Macronutrients are the major molecules used to fuel your body, give you energy for a workout, and help your body recover and repair after a training session; they are more commonly known as “proteins, carbohydrates and fats.” Let’s break it down into recommendations for each macronutrient first, and then put them together into some simple, go-to pre- and post-workout meals for you to try!
Protein: proteins are essential to help with not only building and repairing muscle, but they are part of all cells in the body. Proteins are necessary for muscle growth and repair, hair and skin integrity, satiety, enzymatic reactions, immunity, hormonal functions, cellular structure and molecular transport. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes. Proteins must be transported to the muscles by carbohydrates so they must be paired together to be used optimally in the body. They are essential both before and after your workout.
Carbohydrates: I break this down into your simple sugars and your complex carbohydrates. Your simple sugars help provide a quick source of energy before a workout and are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream so after a workout they are perfect for shuttling protein to the muscles quickly. The complex carbohydrates are going to be a steady source of energy to provide lasting fuel for a workout and then keep you full after exercise until your next meal. Carbohydrates are broken down first, so it is important to pair them with proteins and fats which are digested more slowly and will keep your energy levels high for longer.
Fats: the primary function of fat before and after a workout is to provide some extra calories and vitamins to the diet as well as to help slow digestion and fuel you for longer as they are the slowest digesting of our macronutrients.
Again, it is important to pair these macronutrients together for them to work together and fuel your workout and recovery as efficiently as possible. Before your workout you will want a meal that will help you sustain energy levels throughout your workout, boost performance, keep you hydrated, preserve muscle mass, and speed up recovery. Conversely, your post-exercise nutrition should help you recover efficiently, rehydrate, refuel, build muscle, and improve future performance. Below are some suggestions from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for pre- and post-workout fuel:
Peanut butter and banana or PBJ sandwich
Greek yogurt with berries
Oatmeal with low-fat milk and fruit
Apple and peanut or almond butter
A handful of nuts and raisins (two parts raisins: one part nuts)