One of the many factors to consider when you’re setting up your workout routine is what and when to eat. Nutrition and exercise needs to be harmonious if you want to see longterm health results. What you eat directly affects your workouts, recovery, and strength capacity, so you want to make sure you have everything in order, including and especially your pre- and post-workout nutrition.
You’ve probably heard a lot of different advice when it comes to your nutrition before and after your workout. There are some basic rules that are pretty universal, but other than that you’ll have to find what works best for you because what might be useful for your friend may not be the exact formula for you. There are a lot of factors to consider: whether to eat protein, carbohydrates, or fats; what time to eat and how close to your workout; roughly how many calories to consume; and if and when to take supplements.
It may feel overwhelming to try to juggle all this information in your mind, but you don’t have to know everything. I’ll take you through the basics.
What Should I Eat Before/After Workouts?
This depends on your goal. For weight loss it’s best to follow a 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio if you’re going out for a cardiovascular workout and a 2:1 ratio before strength training. This is the optimal formula for you to burn fat, build lean muscle mass, and shred the maximum amount of calories. An example of a good pre-cardio workout snack would be some fruit like berries, banana, and oranges as well as some lean proteins like beef jerky, deli meats, or supplement with a serving (15g.’s) of collagen.
However, if you’re not trying to lose weight and you’re just trying to maintain or gain weight, you can choose to eat whatever gives you the most energy before a session. Try to keep it between 100-300 calories, though, because if you consume too much food right before a workout, you’ll slow yourself down—or worse, you’ll want to puke halfway through your session!
Here’s a list of foods that will serve you well before you start training. Of course there are plenty of foods not listed here that can work for you, but this is a good place to start.
- Nut butters
- Hard boiled egg
- Whole grain toast
- Hard cheese
- Protein smoothie
- Greek yogurt
- Sauteed chicken
Regardless of your goals, steer clear of high-fiber and high-fat foods before you go to the gym. These foods take a long time to digest and require a lot of energy to process so you’ll feel heavy and unmotivated. Here are some foods you should most certainly avoid right before you go to the gym.
- White bread
- Fried food
- Cold-cut meats
- Soft cheese
- Packaged or processed foods
How Long Before/After Workouts Should I Eat?
There are some basic eating windows that work for just about everyone. Aim to eat your snack about an hour before your workout. Depending on what you’re going to eat and what your preferences are, you could eat up to 90 minutes before training, especially if you like to give yourself more time to digest.
As for after your workout, it’s best to eat within 45 minutes of your session. Your muscles need protein to rebuild and a healthy serving of carbs will re-stock glycogen in your muscles. If you wait too long after your workout to eat a snack, you might end up starving your body of the nutrients it needs after a sweaty workout. Even worse, you’d be robbing your muscles of the chance to fully recover.
Although these eating windows are pretty standard, experiment and figure out the timeline that works best for you and your body. What might work for your friend may not be the answer for you. Take your time to figure out what routine settles best with your body.
How Should My Nutrition Change Depending on My Goals?
We briefly talked about the difference between a pre-workout snack if you’re trying to lose weight vs a pre-workout snack if you’re just trying to maintain. In general, your nutrition will change depending on what your goals are. If your aim is to lose body fat and shed weight, you’ll want to increase your protein intake as it requires more energy to burn protein than carbs or fat. Additionally, you’ll have to keep an eye on your calorie intake so you can be in a healthy calorie deficit, which means you’ll be burning more calories than you’re consuming.
If you’re simply trying to maintain your weight, stick to a clean, whole foods diet and eat moderate portions. Finally, if you’re trying to gain some weight and grow muscle mass, you’ll need to eat in a calorie surplus—but that doesn’t mean you should eat everything under the sun. Still stick to a clean, whole foods diet and add a few extra hundred calories each day, as well as more complex carbohydrates than usual. Pair this with regular weightlifting and you’ll see great results pretty quickly.