Are you a late afternoon, after work exerciser? Chances are, you’ve wondered whether you should eat before or after your workout. Let’s hear from fitness nutrition Expert Courtney Ferreira on what to do the next time hunger strikes around workout time.
Pre- and post-workout nutrition can be a complex topic.
It can depend on the type of exercise, what time of day it is, and your personal eating habits. Everyone is different and it can take time to find out what is right for you.
There is quite a bit of research out there about what to eat to maximize performance, muscle growth, and weight loss. While these studies are important in the strength and conditioning world, most findings are often more applicable to the competitive athlete or their trainer. It can be difficult to extrapolate these studies to “real life” because the average person does not train at the same intensity that the subjects of these studies are often pushed to. Often times, that research looks at just one moment in time, such as performance two hours after consuming a certain food.
So how about for the average person who exercises recreationally or for health, and just wants to know how food can help or hurt their efforts?
Because it is easiest to go to the gym straight from work or school, it is also easier to get active at home before evening chores take over. Here are a few tips for the most common workout time:
the late afternoon, pre-dinner exerciser.
BEFORE YOU GET MOVING…
You had lunch a few hours ago and you are probably getting hungry. Dinner is just around the corner, but a sweat session is in order first. The 4 tips to remember are:
#1: If you are hungry, eat.
Do not try and hold out until dinner time, you will be exhausted. Some people get caught up on having a balanced, large snack 60 minutes before exercise. What works well is something portable that you can eat before you leave work or in the car.
#2: Keep it small.
Focus on eating just enough to quiet your hunger without overdoing it. You don’t want to eat so much that you end up with a stomachache or with other gastrointestinal distress in the middle of your workout. Something that is liquid will be more readily absorbed and more easily broken down, therefore less likely to cause a stomachache.
#3: Keep it simple.
Something that you easily digest will work. This can be anything else you might have as a snack, no need to reinvent the wheel. It may just be some apple slices, half a Larabar, or a big spoonful of nut butter. When you have just enough to keep your blood sugar and energy stable, you can get through your workout without discomfort and without passing out. It is a balance. If you do more intense workouts, again you are the judge of how hard you push yourself, then have more.
#4: Don’t underestimate the impact of your lunch (and breakfast).
If you are so hungry by 4:00 or 5:00pm that a snack just won’t do, there is a good chance you aren’t eating enough earlier in the day.
Now that your workout is over, should you eat again?
First, be aware of how you feel.
Fitness articles and magazines tend to state that we must eat within 30 minutes of exercise, but is that true? Once the intensity of your exercise has come down, be aware of how your body feels. Base your post-exercise snack on how you are feeling: are you dizzy, shaky, or normal? Rather than basing it on a generic “rule”, take the time to tune in to what your body is telling you.
Next, be prepared.
You will never be able to predict how hard you will work or how tired you will feel because this can be impacted by what you eat early in the day and how mentally stressful your day is. If you are driving home from the gym, the park, a class, it is important to have something on hand “just in case”. The last thing you want is to get dizzy or nauseated.
For example, the “half” option for your pre-workout snack is great because you will have the other half on hand. Slice up an entire apple and bring some peanut butter. If you’re not feeling hungry before your workout, maybe you will just eat a slice or two. But let’s say spin class is extra hard that day and you are shaky and bit dizzy when you leave. Now you have something on to eat and to keep you alert until you get home and can have dinner. I also recommend having a blender bottle with protein in it. You don’t need to add water and make the shake, but you will have it with you if you need it.
If you did a quick workout in your room or your basement, make sure to get some water, let your heart rate come down, and then have dinner.
What should you have for dinner?
Maintaining a quality balance of macronutrients is important to help your body recover. Food quality always matters, so focus on having a real food dinner that has adequate protein. This can be chicken, beef, seafood, pork, and even canned salmon or tuna works!
You also need a good carbohydrate source, especially if you have had a tough workout such as circuit training or weightlifting. They should make up no more than half of your plate (ideally less, based on intensity). Remember, good carbohydrate sources include vegetables, potatoes, corn, and whole grains. And of course, don’t forget a good fat source. Olive oil over lettuce or butter over your veggies will work.
Having a balanced, real food dinner after your workout will give your body the fuel it needs to recover, while keeping you full and satisfied for the rest of your night.
Adapted from the original article.
Courtney Ferreira, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Baltimore, MD with a passion for helping individuals reach their health and wellness through flavorful whole foods and freedom from counting calories, fat, and minutes on a treadmill. For more insightful tips on living your healthiest life, visit Courtney at the RealFoodCourt.