You probably already know that proper fuel and recovery are essential for maximizing the efficacy of your workout, but you might not realize that what you eat pre- and post-exercise should vary to a rather large degree based on the actual activity.
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“Endurance runners should focus on pre-run fuel and post-run repair nutrition,” says Kate Scarlata, R.D.N. Pre-run, you should opt for easy-to-digest nutrients like simple carbs and protein. Refrain from too much fat and fiber, which delay digestion.
“Go for easy-to-assimilate foods, like an English muffin or oatmeal toast topped with peanut butter and banana,” she says.
Now here’s some great news: Post run, Scarlata recommends a chocolate peanut butter smoothie, which will help your body recover, keep you satiated and help ward off cravings. Blend half a cup Greek yogurt, one frozen banana, one tablespoon almond butter and two teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder.
If you’re doing something less cardio-intensive, like yoga or barre, you want to aim for a lighter option that provides quick fuel and a small amount of protein, fiber or fat for energy.
“There’s nothing worse than doing an inversion or hitting the barre and feeling bogged down!” exclaims Eliza Whetzel, registered dietitian at Middleberg Nutrition.
“The best pre-workout breakfast is Paleo pancakes: mash a banana with two eggs. Add one teaspoon cinnamon and one teaspoon vanilla extract. Cook like regular pancakes and serve with a tablespoon maple syrup,” she says. Post-workout, she recommends half an avocado with one tablespoon hemp seeds and a sprinkle of sea salt.
On the flip side, HIIT (high intensity interval training), is a great way to burn fat and calories while building muscle.
“Pre-workout, enjoy some oats – they gradually release carbohydrates into your bloodstream and give you a steady stream of consistency energy. They also contain B vitamins which help convert carbohydrates into energy,” explains Graze’s in-house nutritionist, Jess Dyer.
“Have a cup at least 30 minutes before you begin exercising and then, post-workout, you’ll want to again focus on carbs or protein. So, toasted rye bread with a boiled egg or tuna on top, or just the boiled egg or tuna if you’re looking to reduce body fat.”
For weight-lifting, Dyer recommends fruit and Greek yogurt – fruit for the carbs and Greek yogurt for the high quality protein.
“Protein doesn’t break down fast enough to become fuel for a workout, the carbs from fruit break down quickly and the protein is used later to prevent muscle damage, so it’s a great combination before a lifting session.”
After your workout, it’s all about protein and high glycemic carbs, according to Dyer.
“They will help your body shuttle the amino acids (building blocks of protein) into the muscle to help replenish and grow the worked out muscle fibers. Enjoy some cottage cheese with chopped banana,” she suggests.
Fitness dance classes are on the rise and they too require specific fuel.
“Try half of a baked sweet potato with a tablespoon of sunflower seed butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon,” says Chelsey Amer, RD and creator of CitNutritionally.com. “It combines complex carbohydrates and protein, but is light enough that it doesn’t weigh you down during intense dance cardio classes.”
Within 30 to 60 minutes after your workout, she suggests refueling with protein to aid in muscle repair, plus some complex carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores. “One of my favorite post-workout meals is a tofu and veggie scramble, or a veggie omelet with sliced avocado.”