The Best Things To Eat Before And After A Workout

By:    Published: January 30, 2012

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Working out is a great step to getting healthy. However, you don't want to counteract the progress you've made through exercise by eating foods that just aren't good for you. In addition to choosing healthier foods, you can also go for specific items that are great for giving you the energy you need to work out. There are even some foods that can help your body recover after exercising without adding on unnecessary calories. In this article, you'll discover which foods are the best to eat before and after your workouts.

Things to Eat Before a Workout

In general, you should not eat large amounts of food before exercising to avoid feeling tired or experiencing cramps. The Mayo Clinic advises that large meals should be eaten at least three or four hours before you work out. To get the energy you need for exercising, stick to a small meal two or three hours before a workout, and maybe a small snack one hour before your workout.

Pre-workout meals should be very light, consisting of only about 300 to 400 calories, according to FitSugar.com. Try lean meats, fruits or nuts in your meals to get the protein and carbs you'll need for fuel. Here are some healthy pre-workout meal ideas:

  • Hummus with veggies or pretzel sticks
  • Cottage cheese or yogurt with fruit
  • Cereal with skim milk
  • Whole grain bread, bagels or crackers with peanut butter
  • Oatmeal with berries and nuts
  • Salad with beans, veggies and lean meat

When it comes to pre-workout snacks, it's important to remember that fats digest slowly, while carbs with a high glycemic index digest quickly. By choosing snacks with low fats and high carbs, you get the perfect boost of energy before your workout. Additionally, FitSugar.com says these snacks should ideally be under 200 calories. Some of the best snacks in this category include:

  • Fruit smoothies
  • High-glycemic fruits like pineapple, mangos, or bananas
  • Low-fat energy bars
  • Granola bars
  • Trail mix
  • Yogurt

And don't forget about water, as well. You should have about one cup of water per hour in the 2-to-3 hours leading up to your workout, says The Mayo Clinic.

Things to Eat After a Workout

Whether you feel hungry or not after you exercise, it's a good idea to have a healthy meal or snack to help your body recover by reducing muscle soreness and replenishing your energy. Plus, it keeps you from feeling famished later on in the day, which could cause you to snack on junk foods or eat unnecessarily large meals.

The best things to include in a post-workout meal or snack are proteins and carbohydrates. Ideally, you should eat these items within 30 minutes to 2 hours after working out, says The Mayo Clinic. Here are some healthy foods to eat after you work out:

  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • A sandwich made with lean meat
  • Eggs with whole grain toast
  • Oatmeal with berries and nuts
  • Salad with beans, veggies and lean meat
  • Stir fry with brown rice
  • Pasta in a light sauce

Foods to Avoid

Certain foods should be avoided before a workout because of the effects they may have on your digestive system. For example, foods like beans and broccoli can often cause gas, which could make working out very uncomfortable. Additionally, spicy foods can also do a number on your digestive system, so it's best to leave those for after a workout instead. Foods that are high in fats or proteins are also a poor choice because they take a long time to digest.

As far as post-workout foods, proteins and carbs are vital for proper recovery. Obviously, some candy or a high-fat snack food isn't a great choice right after you exercise. However, not all healthy choices are ideal for this situation either. For example, if the only thing you eat right after a workout is some fruit, you could be making a healthy choice but still lacking the carbs and proteins your body needs. Additionally, you can eat slightly heavier meals after a workout, but it's best to stick with healthy choices if you want to maximize the results from your workout.

Tips for Eating to Improve Your Workout Results

If you want to maximize your results from your workout, use these tips for eat before and after you exercise:

  • Use portion control when eating before and after a workout. It's easy to start eating without monitoring how much you consume, so set out a designated portion that fits the guidelines above and don't eat beyond that.
  • Although light meals and snacks are encouraged before a workout, don't make the mistake of eating too little before you exercise or you'll run the risk of not having enough energy to get through your routine.
  • Make sure any sports drinks you consume have a good amount of electrolytes. Brands like Gatorade are reliable when it comes to pre- and post-workout hydration, but some sports drinks contain too much sugar.
  • Avoid too much coffee or energy drinks before a workout. The high levels of caffeine can cause upset stomach or nausea while working out. According to Drugs.com, you should limit your caffeine intake to about 200 to 350 mg for the best results.
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