Pre and post-workout meals are a hot topic in the health and fitness industry.
Everyone wants to know how to fuel their body the best before a workout, and they want to be sure they refuel properly after a workout.
While various trends for pre and post-workout meals come and go, one thing remains true for both meals: protein and carbohydrates are key at both meals, no matter what.
But don’t worry, you’re not doomed to drinking heavy protein shakes or overloading on carbohydrates. You just need to know the basics of your pre and post-workout needs so that you can make smart choices for both meals.
The Importance of Protein and Carbs for Pre and Post-Workout Meals
Protein helps sustain blood sugar levels while also preserving lean muscle mass and carbohydrates help fuel the body and refuel the body after a workout, depending on what type of carbohydrate is eaten.
Quick-digesting carbohydrates (such as a banana or a few dates) are best eaten pre-workout, and complex carbs with more fiber are best eaten post-workout (such as a sweet potato, brown rice, or even a banana or another piece of fruit since they also have fiber).
The key to pre and post-workout meals is to time them properly and eat foods that work best with your body. You also want to be sure that the quality of your pre and post workout meals is high. Think: no candy or sugary gels pre-workout and no fast food burgers post-workout.
Pre-workout, your body needs glucose for fuel, protein to sustain energy and blood sugar levels, and post-workout it needs you to replenish glycogen stores in the muscles by eating slow-digesting carbs and healthy sources of lean protein.
One thing you don’t want to do either pre or post-workout is to eat too much fat which can slow digestion and prevent the protein and carbs from doing their jobs as quickly as possible; fat can also make you feel sluggish if eaten too close to the pre and post-workout window.
So, now that you know what’s important to take into consideration, here are 10 easy ways you can upgrade your pre and post-workout meals.
Upgrade Your Pre and Post-Workout Meals With These 10 Tips:
1. Always go for Whole, Natural Foods First
Whole, natural foods are always better than processed foods for both pre and post-workout meals. This means choosing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein (lentils, egg whites, fish, etc.), small amounts of nuts or seeds, and starchy root vegetables in place of more processed options like bread and cereal.
While you might see various bodybuilders or fitness gurus eating processed foods for their own pre and post-workout meals, there’s no arguing the fact that whole foods provide better building blocks for the human body and they also make you feel better at the same time.
2. Consider Your B’s
B-vitamins are excellent vitamins to include in your pre and post-workout meal; they’re also found in many common healthy foods. B vitamins are found in bananas, dates, sweet potatoes, oats, almonds, cashews, brown rice, chickpea, and black beans. These foods are also natural sources of carbohydrates since they contain fiber, natural sugars, and/or starch.
B vitamins help provide energy to the muscle cells and are quickly depleted during activity which is why it’s important to refuel with them afterward.
3. Save the Fat for Later or Choose Your Fats Wisely
Fat is a healthy nutrient that you need, but be mindful of how it affects your pre and post-workout. It’s best to save a large serving of fat for later on in the day, or you can choose smaller servings of fat to consume pre and post-workout, such as the fat found in ¼ cup of nuts and seeds, a tablespoon of nut butter, ¼ an avocado, or something similar.
This rule of thumb will help your body access those carbs and protein quickly without slowing down digestion leaving you feeling nauseous during your workout.
4. Eat Hydrating Foods Pre and Post-Workout
During a workout, your body depletes itself of water, sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes. Be sure to eat hydrating foods both pre and post-workout which will help your body reserve water stores as long as possible.
Good choices are most fruits (except dried fruits), chia gel, a smoothie, or something similar. Including these in a pre or post-workout meal is also a good option since these foods contain other necessary nutrients for energy and replenishment.
5. Watch the Sodium
Sodium is a necessary mineral both pre and post-workout, but it’s more important to eat something with natural sodium post-workout when your body is naturally low in sodium. Too much sodium can cause you to feel bloated, sick to your stomach, and may even cause headaches if eaten right before a workout.
So eat something with natural sodium after your workout if needed, such as celery and hummus, a banana and natural peanut butter with added salt, a smoothie with a pinch of pink sea salt added to it, a glass of non-dairy milk (which has natural sodium) with some fresh fruit, or something similar.
6. Eat Smaller Portions
Unless you’re a grueling athlete who workouts for hours at a time, smaller portions of food are best to eat for pre and post-workout meals. This can also prevent you from overloading on fiber which can cause gas and bloating—something no one wants to deal with before, during, or after a workout.
Although you may be incredibly hungry, try to eat a moderate or small serving of food for your body right before a workout. You’ll not only have more energy if you feel lighter when a smaller meal is eaten, but your food will also digest better too.
After a workout, resist the urge to overeat which can undo efforts and also lead you to feel nauseous or sick.
7. Keep it Simple
Don’t overthink your pre and post-workout meal too much. Simple food is normally a good choice, such as the options listed above.
Popular pre-workout eats are normally simple, such as banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter, a small bowl of oats with some chia and fruit, a sweet potato with a dab of almond butter, a green smoothie, or a handful of nuts and seeds with some dates.
Popular post-workout meals include rice and beans with veggies, sweet potato with black beans and salsa, a protein green smoothie, or some of the foods above that are also eaten pre-workout.
Choose the option that works best for your body, but remember, keep it simple.
8. Be Prepared
If you typically squeeze in a workout during the middle of a workday, be sure you’re prepared and have a pre and post-workout meal on hand. This can prevent you from driving through somewhere and getting something from a fast food chain, and it can help prevent you from going hungry pre and post-workout (which may also hurt your muscles and energy levels).
One way you can be prepared is to choose really simple pre and post-workout meals that are easy to prepare. Make them ahead on a Saturday or Sunday, and package them up into individual containers that you can grab and go each morning on your way out the door.
A handy lunch bag or similar style bag may also be useful to help you tote your meals around. Just be sure you have something with you so you can give your body what it needs during the pre and post-workout windows.
9. Give Them a Superfood Boost
Are you someone who likes to take things up a notch no matter what you do? Then giving your pre and post-workout meals a superfood boost may be something you want to try.
Certain superfoods that can be found everywhere can make great additions to pre and post-workout meals. These options include goji berries (which are a complete source of protein) acai fruit (which is a great source of protein and antioxidants), and even raw cacao which is a natural source of energy, iron, B vitamins, magnesium, and of course,it adds a delicious flavor!
Other superfoods that make nice additions to pre and post workout meals include protein-rich and anti-inflammatory spirulina, wild blueberries, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and maca powder (a natural energizer and calming agent).
Many of these superfoods can be added to a smoothie, oatmeal, or several other creative ways; just a small serving is all you need!
10. Change it Up!
Be sure to keep your body guessing pre and post-workout. Come up with three very simple pre and post-workout snacks or meals you enjoy, and rotate between those. This rule of thumb can prevent you getting tired of your options and it can be a great way to give your body a wider range of nutrients.
Along with these 10 tips, be sure you listen to your body. Everyone reacts differently to foods, so be mindful of how your choices affect you and listen to your body.
Want more tips? Check out this list of foods that can supercharge your workout!
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