Fuel your body: Your guide to what to eat before and after a workout

Want muscles, bro? Here's what to eat when you're working out.
Want muscles, bro? Here's what to eat when you're working out. Don Arnold/Getty Images

You’re lifting weights, training for a marathon or cycling through spin class. Whatever your workout may be, your body needs fuel to pull through.

What you eat feeds you energy, heals your muscles and helps you get more out of your workout, according to experts. The key is what you eat before and after your gym session and when you time your meals.

“Being hungry or having food in your stomach can make it difficult to exercise … after exercise your nutrition goals are to get enough fluid, electrolytes, and energy to recover quickly, replace losses and restock the glycogen stored in your muscle. Drink plenty of water to replace fluids lost through sweat,” Christy Brissette, a Toronto-based registered dietitian and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition, told Global News.

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“We want people to approach working out feeling good so they have a steady blood sugar. Muscles carry about 90 minutes of fuel so coming to a workout in a fed state and not a full state means arriving ready,” says Jennifer Sygo, a sports nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic Canada. She’s also a nutritionist for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Here’s what the experts, along with Katie Jessop, a sports nutritionist at the Canadian Institute of Sport Ontario, had in mind when it comes to workout fuel for your body.

What to eat before a workout

What you should eat before a workout depends on how many hours ahead you’re having your meal. For most people, eating a full meal three to four hours before exercise or having a snack about one to two hours beforehand works best. Your best bet is to play around with mealtimes and portion sizes to see what works best for you.

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The meal or snack has to come with three critical components:

  • It must be high in carbohydrates from whole grain products and low on the glycemic index for fuel.
  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • A “moderate” amount of protein.
  • Low in fat and fibre because they can slow down the digestion of food and upset your stomach during a workout.

Your pre-workout meal options:

  • A cup of Greek yogurt with fruit, such as a mix of berries, with almonds.
  • A bowl of cereal with skim milk garnished with a nut granola.
  • Toast with peanut butter.
  • Oatmeal with raisins and walnuts (you can add protein powder to this mix).
  • A poached or scrambled egg with tomato on whole grain toast.
  • An apple with two tablespoons of nut butter.
  • A trail mix with nut, fruit, and whole grain cereal.
  • Hummus, crackers and cheese.

What to eat after a workout

Post-workout, your body has a one-hour window to replenish its fuel. It’s most important to stock up on protein during this timeframe to build and repair your muscles.

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“It doesn’t matter if it’s a meal or a snack. It just needs to contain carbohydrates to put the carbs into the muscles you just burnt out and some protein to repair micro-tears in the muscles,” according to Jessop.

Here’s the post-workout meal criteria:

  • Aim for about 15 to 25 grams of lean protein within one hour of working out.
  • Pair the protein with carbohydrates to aid with digestion and to produce insulin, which will help your muscles absorb amino acids.
  • Load up on fluids, such as water, and even coconut water, to replace what you lost via sweat.

Your post-workout meal options:

  • A smoothie made with one per cent milk, a banana, berries and Greek yogurt.
  • A sandwich on whole grain bread with your choice of roasted chicken or turkey, tuna and hummus with your choice of vegetables as toppings.
  • A burrito with chicken, black beans, brown rice, avocado, lettuce and salsa in a whole grain wrap.
  • Soups, stews or chili made with chicken, fish or lentils, vegetables and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat pasta.
  • A two-egg omelette with mushrooms, peppers and whole grain toast.
  • A baked potato or sweet potato stuffed with cottage cheese and broccoli.
  • A mashed sweet potato with chicken breast and roasted beets.
  • Whole grain pasta primavera with chicken or salmon.


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