Eating before and after a workout is an important part of staying energized, losing weight, and speeding up recovery. The most beneficial combination to eat, both before and after a workout, is a mix of complex carbohydrates and protein.
Why Eat Complex Carbohydrates?
Complex carbohydrates help keep the body fueled through a workout and delay the onset of fatigue. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for exercise and are stored in muscle tissue in the form of glycogen. The depletion of muscle glycogen and carbohydrate represent the onset of fatigue. It is therefore important that muscle glycogen stores and available carbohydrate don’t deplete too quickly. Muscle glycogen and carbohydrates are used to support both low intensity and high intensity exercise.
Complex carbohydrates also take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, which helps maintain steady blood sugar and insulin levels. When carbs are digested too quickly, they cause a sudden rise in blood sugar and insulin, followed by a sudden drop. The spikes and drops in blood sugar may contribute to early onset of fatigue during exercise.
Why Eat Protein?
Protein takes longer to digest than carbs and promotes muscle synthesis immediately after a workout. It is important for individuals aiming for specific training adaptations, like bigger muscles and more endurance, to consume sufficient amounts of protein.
When digested, protein is broken down into its amino acid components. Certain amino acids can then be converted to carbs or fat to be used as fuel. During exercise, amino acids can contribute to as much as 15% of the energy burned during exercise.
Protein synthesis for training adaptations takes place immediately after exercise. Consuming protein after a workout is optimal for maximizing the results of strength and endurance training.
How long before and how soon after?
Try to eat at least two hours before exercise to give it time to digest and store as glycogen. This is especially important when consuming large amounts of food, as the onset of exercise redirects blood to the working muscles and away from digestive organs, which may interfere with digestion.
Foods high in protein are best consumed immediately after exercise (within 1 hour), during the period of highest protein synthesis. Insulin sensitivity also rises during this period and carbohydrate is quickly stored in muscle as glycogen (1).
Tips on What to Eat
Banana with almond butter: Banana and almond butter are both rich sources of carbohydrate. Furthermore, fiber levels in both helps slow the release of sugar into blood and keep it steady. It is important to limit fiber intake, however, as too much fiber can cause intestinal bloating and excess gas.
Greek yogurt with granola: Greek yogurt is a complete source of protein that is also rich in fat. Fat is also an important fuel source during exercise, mainly low-intensity exercise. The granola will help provided adequate levels of carbohydrate to replenish glycogen stores both before and after exercise.
Hummus with Multi-grain Crackers or Bread: Hummus, and whole-grain products like crackers and bread are amazing sources of complex carbohydrates. Furthermore, hummus is rich in protein and contains some fiber which will help maintain steady blood sugar during exercise.
Protein shake made with almond milk and a banana: Protein shakes are probably best if consumed after exercise. This is especially true for individuals trying to build muscle through strength training. The choice of milk depends on the individual, for those who are lactose intolerant almond or soy milk with work. Dairy, soy, and almonds are all good protein sources.
Multi-Grain Bread with Nut butter: Both multi-grain bread and nut butter are good sources of complex carbohydrates. Nut butters, such as peanut butter or almond butter, are good known sources of protein. It is always good to vary protein sources and don’t rely too much on animal protein which can be packed with saturated fat. Nut butters have healthy fats that offer health benefits pertaining to heart health, not just exercise.
- Tipton, K D, and R R Wolfe. “Exercise, Protein Metabolism, and Muscle Growth.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2001, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11255140/.