Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand to fuel up energy for your exercise irrespective of the type of workout you prefer. Some feel sluggish and nauseous if they eat before exercise and some feel weak and tired if they don’t eat before exercising. Though eating or fasting is one’s personal choice, for high-level athletes who undergo intense training, eating before exercise is important. Giving sufficient gaps between eating and exercise is imperative to provide time for the food to settle down.
Your personal preference, the types of exercise routines you are into, and the time of exercise all play an important role in deciding whether to eat before a workout or after a workout or what should you eat before and after a workout. Pre and post-workout nutrition are very important and there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation. It depends on the intensity of the workout and the training requirements.
Type of Workout and Food to Eat
The types of workout routines depend on your fitness goals. It could be weight loss and endurance, muscle building, or strength and resistance building. The types of exercises recommended again depend on your training sessions. What you eat before and post-workout depends on the nature of your workout. A combination of proteins and carbohydrates that are easy to digest is recommended for energy required for a workout and to build muscles. Foods with high fat and fibre should be avoided as they may cause stomach disorders.
This is what you should be eating pre and post-workout depending on the type of workout and duration.
1. Foods for High-Intensity Interval Training
HIIT training is spurts of high-intensity exercise with short rests in between sets. It boosts anaerobic and aerobic fitness as well as muscle strength. You should pair this routine with proper nutrition to reap optimum benefits.
Fueling your body before commencing the workout to derive energy to sustain the types of exercises and refuelling your body post the workout to replenish the energy lost during the intense session and for muscle recovery is essential.
Eating before a HIIT session is very crucial to gain the energy required. HIIT is an intense type of workout and needs a lot of energy. If you do not eat before the workout you will feel weak and tired. Your pre-workout food should mostly contain carbohydrates and protein. Carbs are the prime source of energy and proteins prepare you for the intense session. Ideally, you should eat 1 to 3 hours before high-intensity training. The foods recommended are:
- Low-fat yoghurt with berries topping.
- Whole wheat toast with peanut butter
- Apple or banana with almond butter
Carbohydrates derived from our diet are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. The glycogen stored is used up for types of exercises that require intense physical effort and also breaks down muscle tissue. So carbohydrates are required to replenish the glycogen lost and proteins for the repair and recovery of muscles. Carbohydrates and protein in the ratio of 3:1 is considered ideal for post-workout refuelling. This combination helps in the recovery of the muscles and will prime you up for the next session. The recommended options are:
- A cup of low-fat chocolate milk
- Whole grain bread with turkey and sliced tomatoes
- Pita bread and vegetable slices with hummus dips
For recovery after an intense workout, the food choice and when you eat is equally important. Not spacing the post-workout food too much after a session is ideal for fast recovery. Eating after 15 to 20 minutes after HIIT should be your aim.
2. Foods for Cardio Workout
Cardio training emphasises enhancing markers of cardio capacity. If you are into cardiovascular exercises regularly, pairing it with special nutrients to derive the energy required is also vital. The intensity keeps varying during a cardio workout and there will be a shift between using up fats and carbohydrates for energy. So, carbohydrates and fats are both required to fuel up your cardio session.
Fruits, legumes, vegetables, dairy and whole grains are the best choices for carbohydrates and olive oil, peanut butter, nuts, avocado, eggs and butter for fats.
Pre-workout foods should essentially contain carbohydrates that are easy to digest. Carbohydrates with high fibre content take longer to digest and should be avoided. Proteins and fats also take longer to digest and so should be taken only if there is sufficient time between your pre-workout meal and your exercise routine.
Recommended foods if you have less than an hour before exercise.
- Fat-free yoghurt
- Low-fat granola bar
Recommended foods if you have 3 to 4 hours before exercise
- Brown rice with grilled salmon and broccoli
- Whole-grain pasta combined with grilled vegetables and feta cheese
- Whole grain bread with cheese and turkey
- Salad with vinaigrette dressing, whole wheat roll and vinaigrette dressing
Post-workout food is mainly to replenish the energy lost and for the recovery of muscles. It should essentially be a combination of healthy carbohydrates and protein. If you have had a meal 3 to 4 hours before the workout then, have a meal after the workout. Otherwise, you can just go for a light snack. The recommendations are:
- A protein bar
- One glass of chocolate milk
- Pita chips with hummus
- Whole grain bread sandwich of half of a turkey
3. Foods for Strength Training
A strength workout could be circuit training with resistance machines, lifting free weights or yoga. There is a misconception that only protein is required to support any type of workout. The more muscle you need to build the more energy your body will require for the session. A strength workout aids weight loss and provides a tighter and lean body.
Protein is required to rebuild and repair muscles after exercise and also for efficient maintenance of lean muscle. But fats and carbohydrates, the sources of energy required for all types of exercise routines should not be ignored. For a good muscle mass, healthy pre and post-workout nutrition are a requisite.
For a strength workout, your body needs to be able to meet the demands of weight training. Your pre-workout food will make all the difference. The combination of protein and carbs is recommended for a strength workout. Carbs to replenish the glycogen (stored carbs) lost and protein for fat loss, muscle growth and recovery. 30 to 45 grams each of carbs and proteins. 60 to 90 minutes before the training session is the recommended intake before strength training.
Recommended food if you have less than an hour before the session
- Oatmeal, protein powder, and blueberries
- Avocado, vegetables, and scrambled eggs
- Protein smoothie
- Steamed vegetables, rice, and chicken thighs
- Whole grain toast, banana slices, peanut or almond butter.
Recommended food if you have 2 to 3 hours before the session
- Lean protein, roasted vegetables, and brown rice
- Sandwich on whole-grain bread, salad, and lean protein.
- Whole-grain toast with avocado topping, egg omelette, and a cup of fruit
What to eat and when to eat are important after strength workout sessions. Post-workout food restores energy lost, and rebuilds and repairs muscles. Consuming a meal within 30 minutes after a session is advised as the highest quantity of glycogen is absorbed into the cells. and proteins will be delivered to your muscles to begin the replenishing, repair, and rebuilding process.
Recommended foods 30 minutes after the session:
- 1 moong dal cheela with 1 cup curd and 2 tbsp paneer cubes
- 1 bowl of quinoa khichdi with 1 glass of sattu
- 1 whole grain toast with 3 egg whites.
Recommended foods 2 to 3 hours after the session:
- Whole grains with cooked green leafy vegetables or any other vegetables with ghee or white butter and yoghurt or buttermilk
- Lean protein/lentils with ghee or white butter and yoghurt or buttermilk
Drinking water before, during and after a workout is crucial to replenish the electrolytes lost through perspiration. Muscle fatigue and loss of coordination are the outcomes of dehydration. Water is the best option but you can also sip any health drink of your choice during the work out.
Whatever the type of workout, pairing it with proper nutrition is imperative to derive optimum results and achieve your fitness goals. What you eat and when you eat are also equally important. With an idea of pre and post-workout foods, you can make the best out of your workout routines.