This week, our Focus Point will shed light on the importance of smart nutrition before and after workouts.

As mentioned in last week’s Focus Point on Recovery and Regeneration, training doesn’t confine itself to the gym. In fact, what you do before you walk through the doors and after you leave are as important as what you do while you’re here. This is especially true when it comes to what you eat. If you just don’t seem to be getting the results you’re looking for from your workouts, nutrition could be the missing link in your fitness strategy. In order to make your workouts as effective as possible, start to focus on smart pre- and post-workout nutrition.

Before working out, it’s important to give your body fuel to perform well and build muscle. Studies have shown that eating beforestrenuous exercise (as opposed to exercising in a fasted state) improves performance. Ideally, your pre-workout fuel should be a carbohydrate-rich meal with a little protein. This tops off glycogen stores to sustain energy, builds lean body mass, and reduces muscle soreness after exercise. Eating a big meal immediately before working out could upset your stomach, so many people find that it’s ideal to eat a nutritious meal a few hours before working out and a healthy snack right beforehand. In addition, research has shown that a small amount of protein (roughly one ounce) right before exercise can help with performance and recovery. The following ideas can help you plan your pre-workout nutrition.

Three or four hours before a workout, consider eating one of the following meals:

  • Turkey sandwich with avocado and apple
  • Oatmeal with small amount of brown sugar, almonds, and a hard-boiled egg
  • Greek yogurt, granola, and berry parfait
  • Low fat cottage cheese, crackers, carrots, and hummus

Fifteen to thirty minutes before a workout, consider eating one of the following snacks:

  • Banana
  • Applesauce
  • Low fat yogurt
  • Sports drink, gel, or bar
  • Half of a jam sandwich

After a strenuous training session, proper nutrition is essential to your recovery. It replenishes muscle and liver glycogen stores, promotes maintenance of lean tissue, enhances the building of lean body mass, and aids muscle repair. Essentially, everything that you might want from your workout will happen more effectively with good post-workout nutrition.

For your post-workout meal or snack, consume food and/or beverages that contain a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. Timing is also important: for optimal recovery, consume your post-workout meal immediately after you train. After strenuous exercise, our muscles are depleted and require an abundance of protein and carbohydrates. Additionally, they are biochemically “primed” for nutrient uptake. (We often refer to this as the “magic recovery window.”) To illustrate how quickly this window closes, research has shown that consuming a post-exercise meal immediately after working out is superior to consuming one only 1 hour later. In turn, consuming a meal 1 hour later is superior to consuming one 3 hours later (Tipton et al 2001, Levenhagen et al 2001). If you wait too long, glycogen replenishment and protein repair will be compromised.

As soon as possible after your workout, consider eating one of the following snacks:

  • Yogurt
  • Fruit and piece of cheese or ¼ C nuts
  • Chocolate milk
  • Sports bar w/protein
  • Graham crackers with peanut butter

As an active individual, developing nutrition strategies that optimize your fitness goals and overall health can be a balancing act. By taking a close look at your routine and potentially incorporating some of the aforementioned pre- and post-workout ideas, you will be well on your way to successfully achieving your goals!


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