Do you give much thought to what you eat before and after your workouts? I understand that sometimes just getting to a class is enough of a challenge, let alone trying to time food before and after! But if you’re looking to get a more intense workout in, are trying to lose a bit of weight, or are just finding that you’re really drained a couple hours after your workout, then paying attention to what and when you eat in relation to your workout might be the answer.
When you exercise, blood flows away from your digestive system and to your lungs and muscles. Therefore, eating immediately before working out is generally a bad idea and will lead to discomfort ranging from a side-stitch to vomiting. The more intense the workout, the longer you’ll want to have between eating and exercising.
For the types of classes we do at Fitness with Rachel, you’d want to have 1-3 hours to let your food digest, and you want your meal to be:
- Low in fat
- Moderate in carbs and protein
- Lower in fiber the closer you get to working out, higher in fiber the longer you have before class
- Familiar foods you know you tolerate well
- Drink lots of water too, so you’re nicely hydrated
There’s no one perfect meal that’s going to fit the bill here, but you probably want to steer clear of fried and greasy foods and sugary drinks. Those will only weigh you down (literally and figuratively) and keep you from getting the best workout possible.
If you’re working out first thing in the morning and can’t get up early enough to eat and digest, then try having a small amount of carbohydrate that’s very easy to digest, like a half of a banana, a handful of berries, or a half-slice of bread. Even if it’s just 30 minutes before your workout, it might help you exercise at a higher intensity and get more “bang for your buck.”
By all means, pay attention to your body! You may need more or less time to digest, your body may need a few weeks to adapt to eating closer to a workout, and you certainly shouldn’t let this stop you from working out, even if you haven’t eaten a perfect meal at the perfect time.
Post-workout, you want to make sure you have a high-quality protein within a couple hours. That can be part of a meal, or just a snack, and it’s great after any workout, but it’s particularly important if you’ve done any sort of muscle-strengthening (like Tabata Express), because protein helps our muscles to recover. You don’t need much – just 10-20 grams would be ideal – an egg, some milk, cheese or yogurt, lean meat, or beans would all be great choices.
Paying attention to what you eat before and after a workout is particularly important if you’re involved in any endurance activity lasting longer than an hour, like marathon running, triathlons and such. Since that’s not what Fitness with Rachel focuses on primarily, please note that these tips aren’t applicable for those situations. I also want to note that all those protein and energy bars, shakes and gels on the market, while helpful for the endurance athlete or competition bodybuilder, are really not necessary for our classes. I suggest sticking to whole foods as much as possible.