Pre- and Post-Workout Fueling
Fuel up: Reasons to eat pre-workout
Eating before a workout is important! Whether you are heading out for a six-mile run or a two hour on-field/on-court practice, you are asking your body to work hard for you. Just like you wouldn’t expect your car to go anywhere without gas, your body will not operate at top speed or performance without the right fuel already on board to use. When it comes to pre-workout eating, time your eating accordingly:
- 3-4 hours before exercise: have a pre-workout meal
- 30-60 minutes before exercise: have a pre-workout snack
Eating a solid pre-workout meal about three to four hours prior to a workout will help:
- Assure you are taking in enough total calories to support training
- Reduce onset fatigue early on during training
- Help your body get the most out of the training session
- Protect muscles from too much breakdown during training sessions
Eating additional fuel about 30-60 minutes prior to exercise will help “top off” your fuel stores and provide that final push of energy and focus to give you the best workout you can get.
Hot Topic! Practice makes perfect: When it comes to what you should or should not eat before a workout, there are some guidelines to follow (check out the next section!), but within those guidelines, your final choice depends on personal preference. That is why you should practice your pre-workout meals and snacks prior to competition day. Never try anything new on competition day! Practice your fueling for days that you will compete early as well as late in the day, as this may change food choices. If you don’t practice, what you eat before training or competition can negatively impact you by causing cramps, diarrhea, bloating, fatigue and problems focusing. By practicing fueling like you practice your sport, you will prevent these negative side effects and boost your confidence in your fueling when competition day arrives.
What to eat before a workout
What you choose to eat before a workout depends on how much time you have prior to your workout. If you have three to four hours until you exercise, choose a meal that is high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat and fiber. This meal should also include 16-20 ounces of fluid. Here are five great pre-workout meals:
- Breakfast sandwich with an English muffin, egg and cheddar cheese, sliced mango and low-fat milk
- Bagel with peanut butter, whole banana and two cheese sticks
- Turkey and swiss sandwich, orange and low-fat chocolate milk
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple slices and low-fat milk
- Low-fat Greek yogurt with berries, chicken breast and either steamed vegetables or a small salad
When you have 30-60 minutes until you exercise, choose foods that contain high carbohydrate, moderate or low protein and little to no fat. Moderate protein is okay to include if you are further out from the training session (i.e. 45-60 minutes). At 30 minutes out from training, stick with mainly carbohydrate options. Check out this list of 10 top pre-workout foods to help you fuel your workout the right way!
- Fresh fruit or fruit smoothie with water
- Low protein and low-fat granola bar
- Graham crackers
- Dry cereal
- Goldfish or saltine crackers
- Sports drinks
- Fruit snacks
*If you have a very early morning practice and find it tough to eat in the morning, fuel well the night before with a solid bedtime snack and then have something small in the morning like a banana or four fluid ounces of milk to top off stores. After practice, have a full breakfast meal for recovery.
Include link to handout: National Dairy Council/CPSDA Pre-Workout Nutrition
Hot Topic! Why should dairy be in your pre-workout meal? Dairy food is not only a great source of protein but also contains a specific amino acid called leucine. Leucine plays a key role in muscle protein synthesis. Significant amounts of leucine are only found in certain foods, and dairy is one of them! Include dairy in your pre-workout meal to get a great dose of leucine to help protect, recover and rebuild those exercising muscles!
Fuel up: Reasons to eat post-workout
After a hard workout, exercising muscles need optimal nutrition for the best recovery. A great post-workout fueling plan helps the body to:
- Allow for better delivery of nutrients like vitamins and protein to muscles
- Assure muscle repair happens quickly
- Signal the body’s hormones to switch from muscle breakdown to muscle building
Solid recovery foods are those that help:
- Refuel muscles with carbohydrates
- Repair muscles after training breakdown
- Recover muscles with high quality protein.
For a full explanation of the above, check out the “Recovery” section. Eating post-workout every day assures that you can come back the next day and train or compete just as hard or harder than the day before without fear of fatigue or injury.
Choose a recovery snack within 15-60 minutes after training. Follow this with a meal within three to four hours after training.
Hot Topic: Does timing really matter? For those athletes who have two workouts in one day or less than eight hours of time between sessions, eating within the first 30 minutes of finishing the first session is a must! Even if you don’t practice again until tomorrow, don’t wait too long before eating something. Aim to eat within the first one to two hours after training and then eat a full meal within three to four hours after training.
What to eat after a workout
Have you ever found yourself wondering, “what should I eat after a workout”? Whether a snack or a meal, after a workout, choose foods that provide:
- Adequate carbohydrate (body weight/2 = grams of carbs)
- High-quality protein (~20-30 grams)
- Fluid and electrolytes (~16-24 fluid ounces per pound lost during training)
Here are examples of great recovery snacks that should be consumed within 15-60 minutes after training:
- 8 oz. of low-fat chocolate milk and a banana
- Yogurt parfait with Greek yogurt, strawberries and granola
- Apple slices, peanut butter, pretzels and a cheese stick
- Low-fat milk and a moderate protein granola bar
- Smoothie made with Greek yogurt, raspberries, spinach, ice and water
Here are examples of great recovery meals that should be consumed three to four hours after training:
- Whole wheat tortilla packed with scrambled eggs, sautéed broccoli and shredded cheese; serve with a side of yogurt with blueberries
- Whole wheat waffles topped with warm strawberries and plain Greek yogurt; serve with lean turkey bacon and low-fat milk
- Chicken breast, whole wheat pasta and stir fry vegetables topped with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped peanuts
- Mexican bowl containing brown rice, lean sirloin steak, black beans, sautéed peppers, lettuce, tomato and salsa
*For high level athletes, both a post-workout snack and post-workout meal are needed for complete recovery of muscles. Aim to include both in your fueling plan.
Include link to handout: National Dairy Council/CPSDA Fueling for Recovery
Hot Topic! Best recovery fuel: Looking for recovery drink options? The best one is found in your local supermarket! Achieve the best recovery with low-fat chocolate milk. How does chocolate milk help your body recover? Why is chocolate milk good for muscle recovery? Chocolate milk after a workout provides the perfect amount of carbohydrate and protein to refuel and rebuild exhausted muscles. It also contains leucine, which is an amino acid that plays a key role in protein synthesis. Chocolate milk also contains fluid and electrolytes to replenish what is lost in sweat. Because chocolate milk is a liquid, it is quickly digested and delivered to muscles for fast recovery. Is chocolate milk good for you after a workout? Should you drink chocolate milk after a workout? The answer is yes!