Going to the gym without eating first is like driving a car on empty gas. Your body is a vehicle, and food is your fuel. Hence, it’s necessary to eat the right food before working out. Timing is also crucial when choosing the right food before working out, says Arlene Semeco, MS, RD.
To get the maximum results when training, Semeco suggests trying to eat a complete meal containing carbs, protein, and fat 2–3 hours before you workout.
But what if you can’t make sure to eat a proper meal within the 2-3 hours time frame? That’s fine. The basic rule of thumb is that the closer you are to exercising, the smaller and milder your meal should be.
A highly recommended pre-workout meal is a combination of carbs and protein. Fats can also be helpful as long as it is consumed at least two hours before your workout.
The type and quantity of food you need to eat are dependent on the type, duration, and intensity of the workout you will be doing.
Sounds complicated? Don’t worry. Here is a sample meal guide you can easily prepare.
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2–3 Hours or More Before Workout
Here are some examples of balanced pre-workout meals you can take 2-3 hours before hitting the gym:
- Brown rice, roasted vegetables, and lean protein,
- A sandwich made of whole-grain bread, lean protein, and a salad
- Whole-grain toast with avocado spread, a cup of fruit and egg omelet
As mentioned, it’s okay to eat fat as long as you consume it at least 2 hours before working out.
2 Hours Before Workout
- One cup of oatmeal with sliced almonds and banana toppings
- Whole-grain cereal and milk
- Protein smoothie made protein powder, milk banana, and mixed berries
- fruit preserve with natural almond butter sandwich on whole-grain bread
One Hour or Less Before Workout
If you eat 45–60 minutes before hitting the gym, choose the type of food that is easier to digest and contains mainly carbs and some protein to prevent stomach uneasiness during exercise.
- Nutrition bar with protein and nutritious ingredients
- fruit and Greek yogurt
- A piece of fruit, like banana, orange, or an apple
What To Eat After Workout
After an intense exercise, it’s time to refuel and replace the calories you used up and replenish the glycogen that is depleted. A post-work-out meal plan is just as important as the food you take before going to the gym. If you don’t eat after working out, you might end up with fatigue and have low blood sugar. You are also hindering your body from recovering after vigorous training.
Eating protein after working out is necessary, especially after weight training, is significant for faster muscle recovery. Food also contains electrolytes (minerals that your neurons need to work well), which you sweat out during strenuous physical activities.
Here’s what medical professionals recommend you should eat after working out.
Drink Plenty of Water To Rehydrate
Replenish the fluids you lost during exercise as soon as you can. Drinking water is even more necessary than eating right away. Don’t stop drinking even after you’ve already cooled down and stopped sweating.
So how much water do you need after workout? It depends on different factors, including length and intensity of the exercise, environmental conditions, and body physiology.
If you feel like doing the math, here’s the short formula:
Drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound you’ve lost after working out. Hence, don’t forget to weigh yourself before and after exercise and take note of both numbers.
Sounds too complicated? Just listen to your body and do what you feel right. You can use your pee as a guide to your overall hydration level.
“If your urine is light yellow, you’re probably getting enough fluids. If it’s dark or smells strongly, you probably need more water,” says Jessica Fishman Levinson, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.
Get Carbs and Protein To Refuel
Your post-workout meal should be high in complex carbohydrates after you’ve exhausted your glycogen and ripped up your muscles. These complex carbs must break down slowly and get loaded with wholesome protein.
Here are some Post Work-Out Snack and Meal Ideas
- 1 cup of chocolate milk
- 1 slice of whole-wheat toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a half sliced banana
- two graham crackers and one tablespoon of peanut butter
- 1 to 2 hard-boiled eggs and a slice of whole-wheat toast
- A 7-inch round whole wheat pita stuffed with grilled veggies and two tablespoons of hummus
- A protein-rich green smoothie
- A vegetable omelet with avocado and ½ cup of roasted potatoes
- 4 ounces of steamed trout, sautéed spinach, and a baked sweet potato
Different people have different nutritional needs and preferences. It’s always important to pay close attention to how your body reacts to a particular diet. However, it’s probably “not a good idea to experiment with any nutritional changes on a game or race day“, says Jessica Jones, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E. She suggests limiting diet tweaks during training only.