Feed Your Body Well! Pre & Post-Workout Foods

This is a fairly long post, so to avoid causing my blog to look cluttered, I’ve inserted a “read more” tag so that you can open it in a new page.

This post contains information on proper foods for pre & post-workout eating, information on protein, and priceless contact information you can use to speak to a registered dietitian for FREE! (Only for those living in Ontario, Canada.)

If you read this blog on a regular basis, or even view my recipe index, you can easily see that I love treats! One thing that is not so apparent is my love for health and a balanced diet. I don’t post everything I eat in this blog because, well, there’s no interesting recipe for “carrot and celery sticks with a handful of almonds and a glass of water”. I don’t eat chocolate cream puffs and cheesecake every day, 3 times a day, so one thing I would like to post about is proper foods to eat before and after a workout. This isn’t just limited to those of us that go to a gym, because half of my own physical fitness is lots and lots of walking. (And not just walking my dog. I mean occasional 2 1/2 hour power walks from one end of the city to the other. I work in North York, and live in Etobicoke…) Some days, I’ve even taken 45 minutes of my lunch break to either power walk or jog around the area. It’s very important to get as much walking in every day as you possibly can. It’s something so simple that can really help to maintain a healthy weight. (The focus is HEALTHY weight, not stick thin, because a lot of people don’t realize that being underweight posses just as many health risks as being overweight.) And I’ve got to add that even though I’ve been asked so many times “Why don’t you drive? You should get a car!”, I still prefer to take public transit while living in Toronto. Not only does it give me the opportunity to do a lot more walking than I’d do if I had a car, but it also does wonders for the environment! Imagine if the millions of people who take the TTC every day decided to take a car to work instead… Our skies would be black with pollution, and there would be so much traffic that cars would barely be moving. And this is just Toronto I’m talking about… Look at places like Paris, France, or London, England. Without their transit system, you can only imagine how bad their air quality and traffic would be… Of course, if you live in a city that doesn’t have a proper transit system, you will most likely need a car. However, if you live and work in a city that DOES have a proper transit system, but you choose to take a car everywhere, you’re not truly doing as much as you can for the planet. (Or for your wallet!)

Well I went off topic slightly! Back to the reason for this post: pre/post-workout foods!

You need to eat prior to a workout, because if you do physical activity on an empty stomach, this can cause a drop in blood sugar and result in weakness and dizziness. However, you should not eat a large meal before a workout, otherwise you will become tired easily and your muscles may cramp up. This should go without saying, but I’ll add it in anyways: ALWAYS drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. You need to keep your body hydrated to be in top condition. Also, having water at room temperature is better than having ice-cold water, as your body will be able to use room temperature water right away. (With ice-cold water, as refreshing as it is, your body needs to use energy to bring that water down to “body temperature”, and this energy could be better used to fuel your workout!) Here I will include items that I’ve found to be beneficial to me personally prior to and following exercise. Although these will work for most people, always consult a doctor or nutritionist before starting a fitness program so that you can know what works for YOUR body.

3-4 hours before exercise, you should not consume high protein, fiber or (bad) fat filled meals. About 30 minutes to 1 hour before exercise, you should have a small quantity of food, just enough to ensure you are not working out on an empty stomach. What the body needs prior to a workout is some good carbohydrates, not too many though! Make sure that the meal you eat prior to exercise is SMALL! Foods with some good carbohydrates, and a small amount of “good fats” (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids).

Good examples of pre-workout snacks would be:

  • Complex carbohydrates. 1 serving of grains such as beans, oatmeal, pasta or whole grain cereal. (These foods allow the carbohydrates to be utilized by your body slowly, so that you maintain the same energy level through out your exercise session.)
  • Low-fat (or better, non-fat) yogurt, 1 serving at no more than 100 calories.
  • 1 Banana (our bodies don’t store potassium for a long period of time, so having a banana pre-workout ensures that potassium is used to the maximum benefit! If eaten post-workout, eat right away!)
  • Dark chocolate. Oddly enough, 1 or 2 squares can be a great energy boost. However, don’t over-indulge. Pick a dark chocolate, NOT milk chocolate.
  • Energy bars are great for some people, though I personally try to avoid these as most of them are so high in sugar and fat. Some of them even taste like cardboard. One bar that I really do like, is the Luna Bar (s’moors flavour). Those taste great, and give a good boost before the workout. I can only usually eat half of one before going into the gym though.
  • Almonds. I swear by these, as I have these before EVERY workout, and they give me enough energy to push myself further than I normally would. A small handful has less than 100 calories (10-15 almonds is adequate), and there are a few grams of carbs. They do have protein and fats, however the amounts are not significant enough to hinder your workout.
  • Dried cranberries. A lot of sources will tell you to avoid sugars prior to a workout. And they’re right. But there are exceptions to every rule. Having a small amount of dried cranberries (1/4 cup) with 10 almonds will give a nice boost that I’ve personally found to last through out my whole workout.

As soon as possible [or within 60 minutes] after exercise, you should have a light snack/meal consisting of a combination of protein and complex carbohydrates. Avoid having any fats if possible (good OR bad fats), because this will cause your body to take more time to digest the protein and carbs that it urgently needs at this time. This is important so that your muscles can “heal” themselves after the strain they have been put through.

Good examples of post-workout snacks would be:

  • Almonds.
  • Chicken, tuna, turkey, salmon or an egg.
  • Skim Milk (almond milk and soymilk would work also).
  • Low/non-fat cheese (cottage cheese is optimal).
  • 1 banana immediately following a workout.
  • Hummus or peanut butter. Both are high in protein and carbohydrates. If having bread with it, I suggest a whole wheat pita bread.
  • Quick digesting proteins such as a protein shake. (As good as high-protein foods may be, time is of the essence after exercise. Your body will require more time to digest protein in solid form versus liquid form. It’s also more convenient to whip up a protein shake as opposed to taking the time to cook up some chicken or eggs.) Whey protein is the quickest digestible protein, however you should use whatever your dietary needs require. Always speak to a nutritionist if you are unsure of which type of protein is right for you. With protein powder, you can add it to something simple like water or no-sugar added fruit juice, or you can make a smoothie with fruit and milk. There are endless options with protein powder.
  • Carbohydrates. (GOOD carbohydrates…) These are required as “fuel” for your body. Just because your workout is over, doesn’t mean your body is finished working! Carbohydrates will help to restore muscle glycogen, which if not taken from carbohydrates, will be taken from your muscles. This causes a breakdown in muscle tissue, which is the opposite of what you want to happen if you’re exercising.

A few notes on supplements:

  • Before taking advice off of an internet source, please speak to either your doctor or a nutritionist about which ones will be right for you. Every person has different dietary needs based on sex, weight, dietary goals and health restrictions. Genetics can also play a large role in what may or may not benefit you. Only a well-educated professional can help you figure out what is right for you. When I was younger, I visited with a nutritionist monthly for a year. The knowledge I gained from him truly is priceless. That being said, the only “supplements” that I take are a multi-vitamins (thank you, vitamin B-12 deficiency…), vitamin c, and whey protein powder in at least one of my drinks each day.
  • For protein, I do eat foods that give me protein, but it’s really hard to get enough when not eating meat. One important thing to know about protein is that our bodies only really need/utilize about 20 g at one time, even though we require more than that throughout the whole day. (Information about daily requirements is listed below.) The rest is broken down in your digestive system, and eventually goes to waste. So keep this in mind when ingesting a “high protein” beverage or food. Most of my protein drinks only have about 10-20 g of protein added. Also, be careful of the calorie and carbohydrate count of whichever powder you use. If you’re watching calories, it would do you good to know that many protein powder products are high in calories or carbohydrates. They do fill you up, but it’s best to get your calories through healthy foods rather than supplements. A simple whey protein can be found at many bulk food stores, and it only has 20 calories per tbsp. No fat, no carbohydrates, no sugars, and no added flavours. I usually just add this stuff to a cup of 100% natural fruit juice, and I’m good to go! Protein should also be avoided right before a workout, as it will take more effort from your body to digest it. What this will do is cause you to have less energy for your workout, because your body’s energy is going to digestion. The optimal time to have protein is as soon as possible after the workout, within 60 minutes is ideal. This is the time when your muscles need the healing properties of protein the most.
  • Also, it should be noted that having TOO MUCH protein can be bad for you. Higher than necessary levels of protein tend to cause the kidneys and liver to be overworked with breaking down the protein. If you are eating a balanced diet, and getting enough nutrients, there shouldn’t really be a need for suppliments as you will get all you need fromyour diet.
  • For quantities of protein required each day, view this information as stated on About.com:
  • “Our protein needs depend on our age, size, and activity level. The standard method used by nutritionists to estimate our minimum daily protein requirement is to multiply the body weight in kilograms by .8, or weight in pounds by .37. This is the number of grams of protein that should be the daily minimum. According to this method, a person weighing 150 lbs. should eat 55 grams of protein per day, a 200-pound person should get 74 grams, and a 250-pound person, 92 grams.”

Also, if you live in Ontario, visit the Eat Right Ontario website by clicking here.

The Eat Right website has tons of great nutritional information, and you can also call 1-877-510-5102 to speak to a registered dietitian for FREE! I strongly encourage anyone living in Ontario to do this, because as I’ve mentioned before, this knowledge is priceless to have!

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