What you really should be eating before and after your workout

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Stylist Team

Water or sports drinks? Nuts or a banana? Should I have a protein shake or consume my body weight in chicken? To eat or not to eat pre-workout, that is the question.

The questions surrounding workout nutrition are endless, and the answers to these many questions are just as numerous and varied. When working out, be it swimming laps, lifting weights or running through the park, it is essential to make sure your body is fueled for the activity ahead, as well as ensuring you replenish all of the nutrients and fluids lost after you have finished.

So discard those preconceived ideas of thinking the best way to lose weight and tone up is to exercise loads, cut snacks and only eat at meal times – feeding your body before and after a workout will actually aid in burning the most calories, keep you energised and build your fitness levels. Which is great news because who doesn't love compulsory snacking?

As a general point, the best time to eat pre-workout is 1-2 hours before, and the optimum refueling time is 30-45 minutes post-workout.


Before: Before diving into the pool, it is important to fuel yourself with a combination of carbohydrates and protein. Try having a poached egg on wholemeal toast or porridge with banana and honey. Half an hour before swimming snack on a small handful of dried fruit and nuts as this will sustain your blood sugar levels throughout you swim without resulting in a painful stitch.

During: You may not notice it whilst you are gliding through the water, but you do lose a lot of fluids when you swim - you are actually sweating quite significantly (which is hard to tell, considering you are already drenched)! Therefore, make sure to sip water or squash during your swim.

After: It is crucial to start replenshing fluids within the first 20 minutes, so water or an isotonic drink such as Lucozade or Powerade is ideal. Apples, pears and bananas are fantastic post-swim healthy snacks as they replenish lost nutrients and carbohydrates.

Resistance Training

Before: Greek yoghurt sprinkled with granola is a great pre-workout snack, as the whey and casein combination in the yoghurt provides a blend of fast and slow digesting proteins, providing you with muscle building amino acids during you workout.

During: Make sure to sip plenty of water.

After: Once you have finished your resistance training, the most important thing to do is rebuild protein. However, you don't necessarily need to invest in the expensive protein shakes and bars, because believe it or not, a simple glass of milk will suffice. The milk combats tissue breakdown (which occurs when your muscles release a stress hormone called cortisol) by encouraging tissue build up, which tones and strengthens your muscles. So, a glass of milk to accompany either a peanut butter sandwich on wholemeal bread or a handful of nuts and raisins will help you on your way to having those Michelle Obama arms you've been dreaming of.

Long Distance Running

Before: For runs longer than 90 minutes, fueling you muscles correctly is essential. A high protein energy bar of around 200 calories and 5 grams of protein is a good choice, or try a piece of wholemeal toast topped with sliced banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon. The banana will raise your potassium levels which deplete when you sweat, and the added cinnamon stabilises your blood sugar.

During: When running long distances, it is very easy to becoming dehydrated. Carrying an isotonic drink will help to replenish lost fluids and nutrients, but if you prefer water, bring a long a soft cereal bar or a handful of jelly babies to sustain blood sugar levels.

After: Once you have finished, it is vital to immediately consume a recovery drink, and one of the best is chocolate milk! A handful of salted pretzels to accompany your milk will boost your sodium levels, making it a fantastic refueling snack.

Eggs are a wonderful source of protein and will assist in muscle recovery, so have them scrambled, poached, boiled or made into an omelette.

Yoga or Pilates

Before: Before perfecting your Downward Dog, make sure to leave a good few hours between eating and your class, as too much food in the upper digestive tract can make stretching and bending rather uncomfortable. As you will not be burning a huge amount of calories, light meals such as a chicken salad or greek yoghurt topped with mix berries will help fuel your class without leaving you with a heavy bloated feeling.

During: Many instructors actually prefer you not to drink throughout the class as it can disrupt the flow of movement, so make sure you have a big drink of water when you finish.

After: The potassium in a red grapefruit will help to restore the fluid balance in your body, and a cup of chamomile or ginger tea is both rehydrating and relaxing, sustaining that lovely state of zen you worked so hard to achieve.

A more substantial snack (which will be great after a Bikram yoga session) is one wholemeal pitta filled with hummus and spinach. The pitta will replenish your glycogen levels and the hummus will provide healthy fats which will help your body absorb the vitamins A and K from the spinach.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Before: Before embarking upon a HIIT session, make sure you give your body the right amount of carbohydrates and protein to make the most out of your workout. Dried fruit and nuts will be perfect for this, or a small portion of wholemeal pasta and tuna.

During: Drink plenty of water throughout your session because you are definitely going to be working up a sweat.

After: After an intense workout, you need food that will erase your hunger and restore muscle breakdown. Quinoa with grilled chicken and mixed vegetables should be your go to dish - it is packed full of protein and antioxidants used to repair muscle damage and the carbohydrate content from the quinoa will replenish glycogen levels.

Jogging or a Gym Workout

Before: It may sound too goo to be true, but your best friends before a workout of up to 90 minutes are carbs. A pasta dish or a jacket potato is easily digested and will provide you with a sustained energy level. Not feeling the carb-fest? A cereal bar or a slice of wholemeal toast with a thin layer of jam 30-45 minutes before will also suffice.

During: Aim to drink at least 500ml of water in order to stay hydrated.

After: Your post-workout recovery snack must match how hard and how long you trained. This means a short burst on the cross trainer is not equal to a big bowl of pasta carbonara (sorry to be the bearer of such sad and awful news). A glass of milk and a handful of nuts is great for a shorter workout, but if you've worked out for longer (you go Glen Coco) a nutrient dense meal full of lean protein will be much appreciated by your body. Think grill chicken or salmon with mixed vegetables.

Aerobics or Dance Class

Before: Oats, oats and more oats. A bowl of porridge or a cereal bar full of oats will ensure long-lasting energy throughout your workout.

During: If you are doing a high-intensity class, sipping an isotonic drink will aid in boosting your performance. If your class is low to moderate intensity, water will keep you hydrated.

After: To speed up repairing your muscle fibres and to help soothe soreness, a peanut butter sandwich with a banana or greek yoghurt and a handful of almonds is an ideal post-aerobic snack.

Images: Rex Features

Words: Natalie Clark

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Stylist Team