Woman cooking after exercise

What you really should be eating before and after your workout

Posted by for Life

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 queries 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.

“Nutrient timing around your workout is integral in ensuring you get the most out of your session,” says Renee McGregor, sports dietician and member of the Strong Women Collective. “Fuelling appropriately and sufficiently both before and after is critical for optimal performance but also for adaptation from your training. 

What to eat before and after swimming?

Before: Turns out, the rule of waiting an hour after eating before you swim is true. “When we exercise blood flow is directed away from the stomach and into the muscles – thus no digestion can take place. If there is undigested food in the stomach, it can lead to gastric distress,” says Renee. She recommends having a snack, rather than a meal, before swimming. “A banana and pot of fruit yoghurt an hour before is good, or if time is short, then you could use a sports drink. Drink 200-300ml prior to your swim session. 

During: You may not notice it while you are gliding through the water, but you do lose a lot of fluids when you swim. Therefore, Renee suggests finishing the sports drink while you swim or immediately after to top up any lost nutrients and making sure you’re keeping hydrated.

After: Fruit is an amazing post-swim snack as they are a source of fast digesting carbs and packed full of nutrients.

Woman making breakfast
What should you eat before and after exercise?

What to eat before and after weight lifting?

Before: “Before weight lifting, it’s important to include a small amount of good quality protein,” says Renee. Good options include Greek yoghurt with granola or a whey shake made with cows milk or a vegan protein powder shake made with oat milk for vegans. If you want a more substantial or savoury mea, go for a bagel with two eggs, poached or scrambled, or beans on toast.

During: Make sure to sip plenty of water.

After: Once you have finished resistance training, it’s important to refuel with protein to help repair the muscles, but it’s also important to get enough carbohydrates in to restore glycogen levels. “If your next meal falls within 30 minutes of finishing your workout, this can be a recovery meal. Good options include a baked potato with tuna, a chicken couscous salad or stuffed peppers with lentils and quinoa,” explains Renee.

“If it is over 60 minutes until your next meal then I would recommend having an easily digestible snack, such as a protein shake made with milk, a fruit and yoghurt smoothie or 300ml of flavoured milk, for quick digesting carbs and protein, and a banana.” 

What to eat before and after running?

Before: “Before running, carbohydrate is the key fuel required to ensure that you have sufficient energy to maintain your intensity for the duration of the workout,” says Renee. She recommends eating carb-rich food such as porridge made with milk and topped with berries and honey, a bagel with peanut butter and banana, or two slices of wholegrain toast with baked beans. 

During: It’s important to drink water during runs, and if you’re going out for long distances then carry an isotonic drink to replenish lost fluids and nutrients, or a soft cereal bar or a handful of jelly babies to sustain blood sugar levels.

After: “If you have had high sweat losses then drinking an electrolyte at this stage would be useful to combat dehydration,” says Renee. She also recommends refuelling with a similar post-workout meal as weight lifting, focusing on a meal or snack that is made up from carbohydrates and protein. 

Beans on toast area a great pre-workout meal

What to eat before and after yoga? 

Before: Before perfecting your downward dog, make sure to leave a good few hours between eating and posing upside down during class. “Bikram and more intense styles will benefit from more of the protein based meals mentioned above. For more gentle yoga, options such as bircher style muesli or an English muffin with some poached eggs would be great,” says Renee. 

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 hydrated before it begins.

After: If you have done more of a stretching style class then hydration, rather than refuelling, should be key, so don’t panic too much about downing a protein shake. However, if you have done more of an intense class, it will be important to give the muscles a dose of carbohydrates and protein to help them recover.

What to eat before and after HIIT?

Before: As HIIT is cardio based, make sure you give your body a good amount of carbohydrates in your pre-workout meal. Renee recommends the same meals she prescribed for your pre-run fuel. 

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. Another high-protein and high-carb meals that Renee recommends is a Spanish omelette served with a pitta. 

Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts. 

Images: Getty W/ Unsplash

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