What you eat can impact the quality of your workout and results. We chat with qualified nutritionist and naturopath Casey-Lee Lyons from Live Love Nourish to provide tips on nourishing your body before and after your workouts.
If your goal is to get more active and you want to know how to fuel your body with the right nutrition, understanding what is best to eat before and after your workouts can make a difference to your performance, energy and accelerating your results. Getting the right balance of nutrition will ensure an energised workout, as well as provide adequate nutrients for recovery.
Here are some simple tips to help you establish a good nutritional approach to your workouts for fuelling your energy levels, replenishing your body and helping you establish what works best for your body and favourite way to exercise.
These nutrition tips are for those exercising with an intensity that requires additional energy. They offer a guideline that can be customised for your needs by tuning in and listening to your body.
Pre and post-workout nutrition
In a nutshell, what you eat before your workout gives you energy to exercise and to maximise your performance – and what you eat after your workout optimises your recovery in order to replenish, recover and repair.
Your aim is to:
- fuel your energy requirements
- boost performance
- preserve muscle mass
- hydrate and
- speed recovery
- Make sure you are well hydrated with plenty of water or even coconut water (naturally rich in electrolytes).
- Carbohydrates are beneficial when it comes to working out. They provide you with energy for your workout, reduce glycogen depletion as well as aid in recovering energy levels and reducing cortisol levels after exercise.
- Consume good quality low GI carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables (eg sweet potato), gluten-free grains (eg buckwheat or quinoa), beans and legumes or low GI fruit.
- Protein is helpful to preserve muscle mass. Consume small amounts of protein (to prevent muscle breakdown). Good sources include eggs, chicken, seafood, meat or a good quality protein powder.
- The timing of your pre-workout meal does make a difference. Food needs time to absorb to be used as fuel, so allow enough time for digestion. A good guide is to eat approximately 2- 3 hours pre-workout if it is a slower digesting meal (such as a plate of whole food like chicken and sweet potato) or 30-60 mins prior if it is a light snack or an easily digested meal (such as a smoothie). If you are eating close to a workout, opt for an easily digestible meal so your energy is available for working out instead of being focused on digesting food.
Examples of pre-workout meals
- 1/2-1 banana and almond/natural peanut butter
- Apple slices with nut butter and cinnamon
- Omelette with vegetables
- Quinoa flakes (a gluten-free alternative to oats & rich in protein) with almond milk, sprinkled with chopped nuts
- Gluten-free (preservative free) toast with a poached egg and avocado
- Sweet potato toast with fried egg on top
- Eggs with sweet potato hash browns
- Hummus with veggie sticks
- Brown rice or quinoa and tuna/chicken
- Protein smoothie made with plant-based milk, your choice of protein (protein powder/LSA/nut butter/chia seeds), 1/2 banana or berries & cinnamon
- 1-2 dates filled with almond/nut butter
- Chia seed pudding with low GI fruit
Your aim is to:
- replenish and refuel your body for recovery, repair and to rebuild muscle,
- support and improve future performance and
- Your body needs protein to rebuild muscles and prevent muscle breakdown, as well as carbohydrates to replenish lost glycogen stores (used from your muscle during training).
- Aim to refuel your body with protein and good quality carbohydrates within 30-60 minutes after your workout.
- Protein (amino acids) repairs and rebuilds your muscles and supports improved future performance.
- Eating protein after exercise also prevents muscle protein breakdown and stimulates muscle protein synthesis (to either increase or maintain muscle tissue). This is important even if your goals aren’t to become really muscly!
- Good sources of protein include eggs, chicken, seafood, meat or a good quality protein powder.
- Eating unrefined carbohydrates after a workout will help your body recover and assist glycogen replenishment.
- Good quality sources of carbohydrate include sweet potato, quinoa or legumes such as chickpeas.
- Remember, a post workout meal isn’t about earning calories to indulge after exercise. Switch your focus from calorie counting to nourishing your body and from weight loss to achieving a healthy weight that is natural for you.
Some examples of post-workout meals
- A balanced serving of real food (such as chicken, sweet potato and greens)
- Egg and vegetable frittata (with a combo of eggs, roasted pumpkin or sweet potato and peas)
- Quinoa tuna pie
- Omelette with vegetables
- Quinoa and tuna/canned salmon homemade ‘sushi’
- A protein smoothie with a good quality protein powder (I use a plant-based pea protein that’s easily digestible) and 1/2 banana
- Coconut water and protein powder (make sure you choose a good quality one without added sweeteners or fillers)
- Chia pudding and berries
- Grilled chicken or turkey served with a quinoa or brown rice salad
- Grilled fish, baked sweet potato chips and green salad
- Lean meat, steamed greens and mashed sweet potato
- Boiled eggs, salad greens and hummus
- Protein balls
- Chickpea and quinoa salad
Signs to look out for
- Tuning in to your body and listening to its needs can make a big difference to how you feel during and after your workout, and even has an impact on how motivated you feel to exercise. How do you feel during your workout? How do you feel after your workout?
- Some signs to look out for that you might need to look at with your pre or post workout nutrition include:
– feeling achy and tired for the rest of your day post workout
– feeling mentally tired or experiencing foggy thinking
– experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar levels, such as feeling shaky
– losing muscle mass
– low energy
– exhausted after a workout
– moody after working out
– sugar or carbohydrate (or food in general) cravings for the rest of the day
– unmotivated or lacking energy to exercise
Your individual nutrition needs depend on many factors, including the type of exercise you enjoy, your goals, your health status, your goals, your current weight, sleep and stress levels etc. Adapt these principles to best work for your body and goals
Don’t overcomplicate it. Unless you are a competitive athlete or training for a high-level competition for example, keep it simple, listen to your body, don’t over-think it. Understand the basic principles and nourish your body with real food according to its feedback.
Casey-Lee Lyons is a naturopath, nutritionist, recipe developer and founder of Live Love Nourish. She is passionate about inspiring health and happiness through easy-to-understand nutritional and lifestyle advice. Casey-Lee’s refreshing approach to gluten, dairy and sugar-free nutrition has helped many people improve their health, increase energy, find their natural weight, improve gut and digestive health, balance hormones, heal cravings and more.