What to eat before exercise
Before exercising it’s important to fuel your body. Only then can you adequately handle the physical stress of lifting weights, playing individual or team sports, or running.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source of choice for our bodies to supply us with energy. Fats are second. Proteins are the least effective fuel source of macro-nutrients. But they’re the most important in muscle recovery and repair after exercise.
Since carbohydrates are the most efficient forms of fuel, they should be your first choice to consume before exercising.
I have two approaches when it comes to pre-workout nutrition:
1) Immediate pre-workout strategies
2) Prepared pre-workout strategies
I use the immediate approach when exercising within an hour of eating. For example, when fueling up on my way to the gym, or when eating breakfast within an hour of my workout.
Immediate fuel before workouts should be fruits. Fruits are amazing sources of nutrition, energy, carbohydrates, and sugars, all extremely important components to fuel a workout. They are also easy on the stomach, digest easily and should not inhibit exercise performance even if consumed immediately before exercise.
My favorite foods to consume just before exercise are bananas, oranges, apples, grapes, seasonal berries, mangos, pineapple and other fruits. I also use some natural sports drinks like Vega Sport Pre Workout Energizer. It’s designed to supply your body with sustained energy while reducing inflammation. That speeds up the recovery process, enabling more frequent workouts.
Check out the ingredients:
For energy: Green tea, ginseng and yerba mate
For reducing inflammation: ginger root, Devil’s Claw and turmeric
For mental focus and stamina: kombucha, coconut oil, and a host of other natural ingredients.
Pre-workout energy drinks are not required. But the plant extracts they contain elicit an “energy boost” response in your body.
I usually consume my immediate pre-workout nutrition within an hour before exercise, often only 15-30 minutes beforehand. Depending on the nature of my workout, I might also eat more fruit during my workout and drink more Vega during my workout. That provides additional calories, sugars, hydration and overall energy.
If you’re headed to a weight training workout, or sports match or competition, keep a banana, apple, orange or bag of dates with you for continued nutrition throughout your exercise. It won’t feel heavy in your stomach but will actually help continue to fuel your body throughout the exercise.
Prepared Pre-Workout Nutrition
If I had a long workout later today, or a competition hours from now (or even tomorrow), I would do my prepared pre-workout nutrition now.
When I know exercise is still many hours away, I fuel up with complex carbohydrates like brown rice, yams, potatoes, oats, etc. These carbohydrates are slow digesting and provide sustained energy. That’s why they’re popular carbohydrates for runners, endurance athletes and even bodybuilders.
So suppose it’s 12 noon, and you know you have a workout or sports event scheduled for 6PM. Start fueling up with a variety of dense, heavy carbohydrate foods, protein sources, and good fats (Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids, especially Omega 3).
Eat large quantities of these carbohydrate foods, supplemented with protein and fats for a more complete meal. Then as you get closer, say around 3pm, take in more nutrition, something a little smaller and less heavy (whatever you desire: a protein bar, a salad, etc.).
Then at about 5 - 5:30PM, pack in the fruit right before exercise. Fruits contain a lot of water which assist in exercise hydration, and digest quickly and easily while providing immediate energy. You’ll be all set for your 6PM soccer match, run, or the weight training session with your partner or friends.
What to eat after exercise
After exercise, the most important aspect of post-workout nutrition is the consumption of protein. Of course you need to replenish energy lost from exercise, therefore carbohydrates should be consumed immediately after exercise, but when it comes to repairing muscles, protein will be your greatest ally. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are responsible for the repair and recovery of muscle tissues. What does that mean?
When you’re exercising, you’re actually creating micro tears in your muscles. Your body requires amino acids (protein) to rebuild those muscle fibers so they can grow, get stronger and prevent injury.
If you don’t consume protein and a wide variety of amino acids after exercise, you make yourself susceptible and potentially prone to injury from damaged muscle fibers waiting to be repaired. This can easily happen if you exercise hard, don’t supply your body with adequate nutrition, and then exercise again the same day, the following day, or even while stretching the damaged muscles afterward.
Replenish your body not only with protein, but with carbohydrates and essential fats as they all work harmoniously to get the body rested, recovered and ready to workout again in the near future. Since carbohydrates are the primary fuel source used up during exercise, it becomes extremely important to consume carbohydrates after a workout of any type to replenish fuel stores and other nutrients lost or eliminated during exercise.
My favorite protein sources are dark greens, beans, legumes, nuts, and heavy foods like tofu, tempeh and seitan. Traditionally, after I complete a workout, my first desire is to consume a protein drink or meal replacement drink.
We call this hour immediately after exercise the “nutritional window of opportunity”.
Why a protein drink? Nutrition in liquid form is much easier for your body to digest and assimilate than food that has to be chewed, broken down, swallowed and eventually digested or discarded.
It’s not that eating whole foods is bad. In fact, they’re part of my post-workout nutrition program and should be for everyone. But the first step should be to get some sort of natural protein drink in your body for immediate nutritional recovery from exercise. These can even be whole-food based, ground up whole foods in powder form. Added with water they make the nutrition assimilated much quicker, then a proper meal can follow 30 minutes later. You can make them yourself, or find a wide variety of plant-based protein powders in many health and grocery stores.
There are many brands out there. I recommend the Vega product line because they use a wide variety of plant-based sources of protein, not just one or two, but five to give a balanced amino acid profile.
Vega Whole Food Health Optimizer is a meal replacement powder, as well as a protein powder. That means it has five sources of protein (hemp, pea, rice, flax, and chlorella). It also has 100% RDA of vitamins and minerals, Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes, and antioxidants.
It even has natural ingredients like the root vegetable maca, which helps nourish the adrenal glands, combats elevated cortisol levels, and reduces stress. It’s a prime candidate for post-workout nutrition. That’s because it helps with recovery, reduces inflammation, and lowers stress. It’s also vegan, sustainable, alkaline-forming and common-allergen free (free of soy, dairy, gluten, corn, and sugar). I use other Vega products such as the Vega Sport Protein as well because it contains Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) and the amino acid commonly known for its assistance in muscle recovery, L-glutamine. I use other brands featured on my http://www.veganbodybuilding.com website as well and enjoy a diversity of quick, nutrient dense protein and meal replacement drinks.
After my protein drink, I focus on a meal based around whole foods or high protein/calorie foods. My post-workout meal is one of my largest meals of the day.
Exercising and burning calories increases your appetite, so you need high protein/calorie foods to help your body recover. I tend to focus on burritos, sandwiches, large salads, wraps, potatoes, yams, beans, lentils, quinoa and other heavy foods for my post-workout nutrition. I’m also a fan of ethnic foods. After exercise I often find myself at a Thai, Indian, Mexican or Ethiopian food restaurant. That is just my preference, but the goal is to get nutrient dense foods post-workout so choose your own favorite foods for one of your largest meals of the day.
Remember to eat for nourishment and eat to thrive, be it before, during or after exercise. Fuel yourself well.
All the best in health and fitness!
@RobertCheeke on Twitter