Foods to Eat Before or After a Workout
Eric Romanak hasn’t always had the sculpted, lean physique you see today. In fact, until he began to take his diet and physical fitness seriously he guzzled Mountain Dew by the gallon. Well, perhaps not the gallon, but definitely in excessive amounts. So he understands how difficult it is to change one’s diet and lifestyle.
Eric had never been athletic. He wasn’t all that interested in fitness and he didn’t seem to mind carrying around a few extra pounds. Believe it or not, he was about 80 pounds heavier than he is today.
Then something changed when he and his wife Denise had their first child. Eric started to look at the world from a different lens. He got involved in martial arts and started paying attention to the types of foods and beverages he consumed. This new path led Eric to become a personal trainer and he opened a holistic fitness center in Paducah called Seva Fitness. Today, one of the things Eric encourages his clients to do is to eat the right kinds of foods and drinks before and after their workout.
While there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone’s needs, Eric did point us to a few basics to keep in mind.
Before a Workout:
“You don't have to eat before a workout. As a matter of fact, I don't really recommend eating within two hours of working out,” Eric says. “However, certain workouts have nutritional demands after you’ve exercised a certain length of time. For example, if you’re going for a two-hour run, you will probably need some form of glycogen (sugar) to refuel about 50 to 60 minutes into it. If you are only working out for 45 minutes to an hour, then your body will burn its reserves and get into fat burning mode, which most people want.”
If you’re the kind of person who feels nauseous without a little food in your tummy in the morning, then Eric says eating a banana or a piece of toast, or sipping on a sports drink during the workout can help. No matter what he recommends always limiting your carbohydrate intake before the workout.
After a Workout:
“I strongly encourage eating a meal AFTER your workout,” Eric says. “Recovery is king!”
Here is some additional advice to consider after your workout.
- It’s important to eat food within 60 minutes after a workout because this is when your metabolism is in high gear, so calories tend to burn faster. Eating after a workout helps build muscle and that keeps your body energized. If you don’t eat after a workout your body will begin to look for nourishment elsewhere, sometimes breaking down muscles and bone.
- Eric says he consumes most of his carbohydrates for the day after he has worked out. He recommends whole grains, sweet potatoes and fruits. These foods are great for repairing and building muscle after a workout.
- Eric also suggests eating palm size portions of proteins. This may come in the form of lean meats or beans. He cautions us that serving size is very important.
“Most people are very protein deficient, as they have a carb heavy metabolism,” Eric says. “The current daily dietary protein guidelines are for survival, but not for thriving. People who work out typically want to thrive and will need to eat more to do so. This is especially true when it comes to having energy throughout the day. Men should eat two palm-size protein portions per meal and women one palm. Recreational athletes may require more than that.”
Eric also recommends eating at least two cups of vegetables with every meal. This can be especially beneficial when a person is eating the appropriate amount of protein and working out. The fiber from vegetables can be very helpful in maintaining good gastrointestinal health.
A Dietician's Viewpoint
Opinions do vary within the fitness industry. Local Registered Dietician, Amber Hayes also had some thoughts on the subject of what to eat before and after a workout. Amber works for the Ballard County Schools and finds that planning ahead can make all the difference in the world to optimizing someone’s workout.
Amber suggests eating a light snack about 30 minutes before your workout in order to keep your body energized. She recommends simple carbohydrates to give your body a boost. Simple carbs include things like oranges, bananas and apples. A simple fruit or kale smoothie can be a good option for someone who needs an energy boost early in the morning before their workout. She recommends waiting about 30 minutes after eating to engage in a serious workout.
A little bit of protein can help provide energy, as well. So pairing a banana with a nut butter can be beneficial to a workout. However, she does encourages us to use natural peanut butter, or almond or sunflower butters. These nut butters are typically lower in saturated fat. Traditional peanut butter tends to be very fattening and can lead to weight gain rather than weight loss.
“The key word here is thinking. You always have to be thinking about what you’re going to put into your body before you work out because it really does matter what you eat,” Amber says. “People make a lot of dietary mistakes after a workout because they’re hungry. Keep a snack handy for after your workout, such as dried fruits or pre-portioned nuts.”
Amber also cautions us to be careful with seemingly healthy protein bars.
“Some protein bars are great and others are full of sugar. Sugar is really what you need to watch after a workout. It’s what holds fat on our bellies,” she says. “Our bodies need sugar, but a general rule of thumb is to try to keep it under about 10 grams of sugar per pre-work out snack or meal.”
For more information on holistic health and wellness, you can read more at sevafitness.com. You may also enjoy Amber’s recipe for a delicious kale smoothie.
Blend the following:
2 cups raw kale, chopped
¼ cup frozen pineapple
3/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 teaspoon local honey
2.1 ounces of raw banana
1 Tablespoon natural peanut butter
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt