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Best foods to eat before and after workout

Fitness enthusiasts, bodybuilders and athletes always want to improve performance and achieve fitness goals. Knowing the right foods to eat before and after your workout will help achieve all that.

Exercise: A bodybuilder working out with dumbbells at the gym

Key takeaways:

  • The body needs all three macronutrients- carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for increased performance during a workout and for nourishment after a workout.
  • Examples of great foods you can eat before diet include brown rice and lean protein, oatmeal, and whole grain bread. Some great food options to eat after a workout include pita, Greek yogurt, and quinoa.
  • What ou eat before and after your workout matters because eating the right food can improve your performance before workouts, reduce muscle damage and help you renew your strength after your workout session.

The macronutrient you consume before and after your workout has a specific role it plays. However, the ratio of macronutrients people need to consume and the timing of intake varies depending on the individual and the type of exercise they perform.

In this article, we will discuss why it is important to pay attention to what you eat before an d after workouts, nutrients your body needs for increased performance, and the best pre-workout and post-workout food options.

Why does the food you eat before and after workout matter?

The food you eat before and after workout matters because the right nutrition can enhance your performance and fasten your recovery after your workout. Just as their some foods that are ideal to eat after fasting, it may be best to eat certain foods before and after your workout sessions.

A study shows that taking the right food before a workout can improve performance while minimising muscle damage.

To understand why the food you eat before and after your exercise matters, you have to understand what happens to the body when you exercise. First, the body stores excess glucose as glycogen. But, when you exercise, the body uses up the stored glucose; thus, the body’s supply of glycogen becomes depleted. 

It doesn’t end there. Some proteins in the muscles may also get broken down in the process. Consuming the right high-carb foods before a workout can help your body maximise its glycogen storage before the workout session, while fat-rich foods can help fuel the body for longer workout sessions.

On the other hand, eating the right food, e.g., protein-rich food after your exercise, can help your body rebuild and regrow its muscle proteins faster. This will benefit bodybuilders a lot because their muscle needs proteins to increase in mass.

Nutrients your body needs for better workout effects

Your body needs the macronutrients - proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the right proportion

When preparing for your workout session, there are many things to plan for, including food! You must give attention to your pre-workout and post-workout meals. Below are important macronutrients that should constitute your meals before and after your workouts.

Carbs

The body converts carbohydrates into glucose, which it uses as fuel. It stores excess glucose as glycogen in the liver and muscles. If you are doing short- and high-intensity exercise (like weight-lifting, sprinting, shotput, and discus), your body will have to dip from its glycogen stores to fuel your exercise. 

However, your muscles' glycogen stores are limited. As you work out, the glycogen stores diminish, causing your output and performance to decline. Eating carbohydrate foods before workouts may be beneficial, especially for bodybuilders and athletes who participate in high-intensity exercises.

Studies have shown that loading the body with carbohydrates before exercise can increase glycogen stores, thereby supporting glycogen utilisation. This, in turn, enhances exercise performance.

Proteins

Consuming protein foods before your workout sessions can improve your exercise performance by increasing muscle protein synthesis. Protein can also aid muscle recovery after exercise.

Eating protein before or after exercising improves muscle recovery, increases muscle growth, and increases strength and lean muscle mass.

Fats

Unlike short- and high-intensity exercises, which are fueled by glycogen, fats fuel long and moderate-to-low-intensity exercises (e.g., cycling, lap swimming, and jogging). You may need to eat foods that contain fat before your workout.

Most studies on the effects of fat intake on physical activity performance study the effects of a high-fat diet over a long period rather than its effects prior to exercise. However, they still give a clue on the benefits of a fatty diet for athletes. 

One such study found that a 4-week diet made up of 40% fat increased endurance workout times in trained runners without the adverse effect of plasma cortisol (stress hormone).

Do you know the foods that are rich in these macronutrients? Find below some examples of great food choices to opt for before and after your exercise sessions.

Best pre-workout food choices

Here are some best foods to eat before your workout:

  • Whole-grain cereal and milk
  • Protein smoothie made with banana, protein powder and milk
  • Oatmeal
  • Almond butter and whole-grain bread
  • Egg omelet
  • Brown rice and lean protein
  • Greek yoghurt and fruits
  • Nutrition bar that contains proteins and other wholesome ingredients
  • Lots of water

Best post-workout food choices

To get the best results out of your workout, it might help to consume the following foods after your workout:

  • A bowl of quinoa with berries and sweet potatoes
  • Protein shake with banana
  • Brown rice with grilled chicken and vegetables
  • Whole-grain crackers with fruits
  • Tuna salad sandwich
  • Pita
  • Oatmeal
  • Whey protein and almonds
  • Cereal meal with soy milk or dairy
  • Cottage cheese
  • Greek yoghurt and granola
  • Salmon and sweet potato
  • Edamame
  • Nuts and chocolate milk
  • Lots of water

Are supplements good for pre-workout and post-workout?

Image by Team Fredi on Unsplash

Yes, supplements are great options to add to your pre-workout and post-workout meals. 

Recently, the use of supplements by bodybuilders and athletes has been on the rise. Some supplements can help you achieve your fitness goals by enhancing performance, increasing lean body mass, improving strength, and reducing fatigue.

Some supplements to consider for your pre-workout and post-workout sessions include:

  • Creatine supplements: is one of the most widely used by athletes and bodybuilders. Studies have shown that this supplement can increase muscle mass, muscle strength, and muscle fiber and delay fatigue.
  • Beta-Alanine: Beta-Alanine is effective for short- and high-intensity workouts because it reduces fatigue while increasing muscle endurance and exercise capacity. 
  • Whey protein: Whey protein acts quickly like milk protein. It helps deliver amino acids to the muscles, thus, increasing the rate of protein synthesis and jump-starting the anabolic process.
  • Branched-chain amino acids: include the essential amino acids - leucine, valine, and isoleucine. Taking this supplement before a workout can help increase muscle protein synthesis and decrease muscle damage.

While you think about the right food to eat before and after your workout sessions, remember that water is essential. Hydration is crucial because your body needs water to function. Hydration can help you sustain your performance and rejuvenate your body after each workout.