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What to Eat Before and After Working Out

News What to Eat Before and After Working Out (June 2023)

An Athlete’s Guide to Nutrition

Whether you’re a runner powerlifter, or team sport athlete, you need to properly fuel your body to perform and recover well. We talked with Paige Prestigiacomo, former Sports Nutrition Resident in the Human Performance Center about what to eat before and after working out.

What to Eat Depends on When You Eat

Eating both before and after a workout is important; eating before helps fuel your body to give you energy and eating after helps with recovery.

When you fuel your body before a workout, it’s important to eat carbohydrates. But exactly what kinds—simple or complex carbs—depends on how much time you have before the workout.

2+ Hours Before Your Workout

“If you have at least two hours, then you can focus on a mini meal or snack that has carbs, moderate protein, and low to moderate fat,” Prestigiacomo said. “You can include complex carbs, which are carbs that have fiber, like oatmeal or whole grain bread.”

Complex carbs are harder to break down, so your body needs more time to digest them. You don’t want your body expending energy breaking them down during the workout.

30 Mins (or Less) Before Your Workout

 “If you have less than 30 minutes before you’re working out, then you could focus on very simple, easy-to-digest carbs, like applesauce, bananas, granola bars, or a glass of juice,” explained Prestigiacomo.

Simple carbs are easier to digest, meaning your body is able to turn them into the energy you need quicker.

Why Carbs?

Carbs have gotten a bad reputation, but they are crucial for athletes. “Carbs are the body’s number one energy source,” Prestigiacomo said. “Obviously, we need to push protein to rebuild those muscles but if you’re not getting enough carbs, with how much energy you’re burning, that’s where we see that recovery or training kind of hitting a wall.”

Eating carbs before you work out ensures that you have the fuel you need to perform.  In fact, you need carbs after working out too.

The Three Rs of Recovery: Refuel, Rebuild, Rehydrate

After a workout, there are three ways to help your body recover through nutrition. Prestigiacomo refers to them as the “three R’s” of recovery.

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#1: Refuel with Carbs

Yes, you need to eat more carbs after you work out. It’s one thing athletes often miss.

“With any kind of intense exercise, you’re depleting the glycogen stores in your body,” Prestigiacomo said. “We just emptied the fuel tank and now we need to refill that fuel tank back up.”

#2 Rebuild Muscles with Protein

When most people think of post-workout nutrition, they think of protein. “You need to rebuild with protein to promote that muscle protein synthesis and support your body as you’re metabolically switching from muscle breakdown to muscle building,” Prestigiacomo said.

Protein helps make that switch from breakdown to building. While protein helps rebuild the muscles, it won’t do so as efficiently without a glycogen source.

That is what the carbs do, which is why both protein and carbs are important after a workout. The proportion of carbs to protein may surprise you. Prestigiacomo recommends at least a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein. For intense team sports or endurance athletes, she’d bump that up to a 3:1 ratio.

#3 Rehydrate with Fluids

When you sweat while working out, you aren’t losing just water, you’re also losing electrolytes. Try to rehydrate with an electrolyte-filled fluid.

While sodium is the top electrolyte lost through sweating, other important electrolytes to consider are potassium, magnesium, calcium. At the end of organized races, they often offer bananas and chocolate milk to replenish both carbs and electrolytes.

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How soon after a workout should you eat?

After a workout, you should be refueling as soon as you can. A well-balanced meal or snack within an hour of finishing your workout is best.

“The faster we can replenish the glycogen source and initiate the tissue repair, the better,” Prestigiacomo said.

Building a Performance Plate

While it’s important to support your workout with proper food before and after a workout, don’t neglect your nutrition the rest of the day. No matter how healthy you are before and after a workout, if you’re not eating well (and enough) throughout the day, you’ll still struggle with recovery and performance. Prestigiacomo recommends the visual of building a ‘performance plate’.

“When you’re looking at your plate, does it have a protein for muscle rebuilding?” Prestigiacomo asks. “Does it have carbs for energy? Is there color with a fruit or a veggie? That should be the base. Then a small portion of a healthy fat.”

Acupuncturists and chiropractors at Bloomington Clinic can all work with you to make healthy eating a part of your treatment plan.

Schedule an appointment today at 952-885-5444