What to Eat Pre & Post Workout
As some of you know, I recently began teaching classes at the popular fitness studio in my area, Sweat Garage.
Sweat Garage is a circuit-style cardio and strength training class incorporating treadmill intervals, weights, plyometrics, jump roping, body weight exercises, core building and much more.
In addition to Saturdays at 4 p.m., I also teach the 8:15 p.m. class on Monday and Wednesday – meaning most people are coming straight from work to workout.
One evening, some clients asked me what they should be eating pre and post workout, in order to have enough energy to make it through the strenuous hour-long class. They also wanted to know what they should eat when they got home.
They’d heard you were supposed to eat a certain amount of protein after a workout to rebuild muscle, but they had also heard that eating late at night will make you gain weight. Ah, the dilemma.
I did a little myth-busting, and found some answers.
Pre-workout your body needs carbs.
Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy. Anyone who tells you differently has never taken a basic science class. That means your body prefers to use them, in the form of glucose, to fuel workouts.
Protein on the other hand is the building block of life. It not only builds muscle tissue, but it also helps your body carry out most of its basic functions by way of enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters.
So it follows that your body needs carbohydrates pre-workout. It’s like putting gas in your car. You should aim for about 1 to 4.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, 1 to 4 hours prior. So, a 130 lb gal may want to consume a 120 calorie banana about 1-2 hours before her workout.
It will vary by individual, and you can figure out what works best for you. The important thing is to give your body time to fully digest the food before the exercise or you’re going to be in trouble. Hello, side cramp.
Ideally, I like to eat a full, carb-heavy breakfast 2 hours prior to my workouts.
This is not feasible when I workout first in the morning though.
But I know from experience that I’m much more efficient when I get a few carbs in pre-burn than when I go at it on an empty stomach, so I eat a little snack when I’m going to exercise in the early am. You can see in my meal breakdown below what I choose to fuel up on before exercise.
Post-workout you should be eating protein and carbohydrates.
After exercise, you should drink a protein shake, right?
It turns out, your body actually prefers protein and carbs after a workout. Eating carbohydrates with protein will ensure the protein is spared for muscle building, while the carbs are used to replace your energy stores.
Aim to get in a balance of the two within 30-90 minutes of exercise to replace glycogen stores, shorten recovery time and maximize muscle repair.
I usually have my standard breakfast after my workout: a balance of carbs, protein and fat. If you’re not going to eat a full meal though I’d recommend an equally balanced snack of half protein, half carbs in the range of 150-250 calories.
Some ideas: greek yogurt with fruit, a smoothie made with bananas and vegan protein powder or a fried egg and a piece of whole-grain toast.
So what should you do if, like my clients in the 8:15 class, you’re not done with your workout until late in the evening?
Eating past 7 p.m. — or 5, 6, or 8 for that matter — will not make you gain weight.
Weight gain is caused by a positive calorie balance, in other words, eating more calories than your body needs. If you’re eating the right amount of calories to fuel your body (or less) then you don’t have to worry about when you eat them.
That biological clock of yours is metaphorical, and even so, it doesn’t apply to diet. Your body does not have a timer that goes off in the evening telling it to store everything you consume as fat.
It stores all nutrients as fat (all including protein) when you eat in excess. It doesn’t care what those nutrients are made of – grapes or Big Macs. If you have too much, it’s getting stored as fat.
So, if you need to eat dinner or a post-workout snack late at night, go ahead and do it. Just make sure it fits in to your normal caloric intake. If you don’t know how many calories you expend on a daily basis, you can get a rough estimate using calculators like this one.
To give you an idea of how I fuel my workouts, here’s a roundup of my eats on Monday. I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t think my way is the best or only way, but it works for me.
6:15 a.m. Pre-Workout:
Half of a Banana & a Cup of Coffee.
I drink a few sips of the coffee on the way to the gym to give me a little jolt of energy and I finish it afterwards with my breakfast. The 50 cals of banana 30 minutes prior to my workout are just the right amount of carbs to get me through my intense cardio and strength training.
9:00 a.m. Breakfast:
Six Egg White & Veggie Omelet (squash, peppers, mushrooms and spinach) with an Ezekiel Sprouted English Muffin and 1 T. of Almond Butter.
Many people ask why I don’t eat yolks with breakfast. The answer is: I prefer to get my healthy fat with breakfast from my nut butter (I’m addicted) and because I like to eat a large portion of eggs to fill me up. If I had six yolks with this I would be eating in excess – which as we discussed prior, is not good.
11:00 a.m. Snack:
Greek Yogurt and fresh Pineapple.
This makes an awesome post-workout snack as well!
1:30 p.m. Lunch:
Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti with Ground Turkey.
3:30 p.m. Snack #2:
Leftover Homemade Whole-Wheat Pineapple & Turkey Bacon Pizza aka Heaven.
7 p.m. Dinner:
Chicken, Asparagus and Cherry Tomato Stir-Fry topped with fresh Parmesan.
9 p.m. Dessert:
So, like I said above, this is just my way of doing things. My goal is lean body mass and overall health.
Bodybuilders and figure competitors on the other hand, will avoid carbs for a couple of weeks prior to their shows. After though, most go back to a balanced diet. The lean body mass required for competition is generally unhealthy and not sustainable. Additionally, as discussed before, carbs are required for optimum muscle gain.
***If you’re in the L.A. area, please join me for a class at Sweat Garage. They have a special going right now – a full week of unlimited classes for $15.
What are you waiting for? Come tonight!!