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 macronutrients.
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
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 Performance Optimizer. 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
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 Sport Performance
Optimizer during my workout. That provides additional calories, sugars, hydration and
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 rice, pasta, 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).
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. 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 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 for sure. 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.
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 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