Whether you’re a serious athlete or running your first 5K, understanding the basics of sports nutrition can definitely help you reach your fitness goals. I created this resource because how to properly fuel fitness is one of the most common questions that I am asked. Use it to lessen fatigue and help build speed and strength!
The “Everyday” is Essential
In the world of sports nutrition, its easy to lose sight of everyday nutrition and overanalyze pre- and post-workout meals. Below is a general guide for pre/post-workout nutrition but remember that simply choosing healthy, balanced foods throughout the day is the first essential step. For many of us, this is even enough. But if you’re competing in a sport, or have an otherwise demanding fitness goal, considering pre and post-workout nutrition can give you an edge.
A couple of essential ‘everyday nutrition’ considerations:
- Energy: You’re body needs more energy from food if you’re physically active and trying to build strength. Aim for well-balanced meals with a good source of protein and healthy fats.
- Hydration: You’ll need to make up for extra water lost through sweat, so remember to drink water and/or herbal tea throughout the day.
First, it’s important to note that depending on the duration and intensity of your activity, you may not need a pre-workout snack at all. If you fatigue easily, you may need to eat more. If you feel full and/or bloated, you may need to eat less. Generally, you should eat less food as you are closer to activity.
Our muscles store energy in the form of glycogen, which is basically just a storage form of sugar/carbohydrate. We can “top off” these glycogen stores by consuming high-carbohydrate foods, along with fluids, before exercise. (This is why we see marathon runners eat big bowls of pasta before races.)
Ideally food eaten within about an hour of activity should be mostly carbohydrates (fruits and starches). You can also include a small amount of protein and/or healthy fats but too much can worsen abdominal pain, etc. during exercise.
Having water throughout the day is essential but you can optimize your hydration by ensuring that you drink at least 1-2 cups of water within a few hours of activity (1).
Pre-Workout Snack Ideas:
Dried Fruit or Fruit Leather
Powerful Pre-Workout Mocha Bites from Deryn at Running on Real Food (great for a power/strength workout)
The goal of post-workout nutrition is to replace the energy, fluids, and electrolytes that were lost during activity. Post-workout meals and snacks also give us the tools we need to build new muscle mass and other cellular components.
If possible, try to include some carbohydrates within 30 to 45 minutes of activity. Because of hormonal and circulatory changes that occur after exercise, taking in carbohydrates during this time makes it easier for our muscles to restore energy.
BUT…don’t be too concerned if you miss this window.
Having a nourishing and balanced meal within a couple hours can also do a lot to help your body build and restore. Ideally, the post-workout meal should contain a good source of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Choosing foods rich in protein helps repair and build new muscle tissue. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in ground flax, walnuts, chia seeds, and certain types of fish) have also been shown to help promote recovery (3). Phytonutrients and antioxidants found in plant foods can also help reduce muscle soreness and pain.
Post-Workout Meal & Snack Ideas:
Chocolate Chia Recovery Drink from Dana at Minimalist Baker
Triple Lentil Recovery Soup from Angela at Oh She Glows
A Word on Sports Drinks
If you’re familiar with my personal nutrition philosophy, you can probably guess that I’m not the biggest fan of most commercial sports drinks and gels. (They usually don’t contain much more than corn syrup, cane sugar, and artificial additives.)
Consuming anything in addition to water during exercise is really only necessary when activity is moderate/high intensity and longer than 60 minutes. After an hour, additional energy and electrolytes may be helpful in order to prevent fatigue and glycogen depletion.
Coconut water is one option for refueling electrolytes naturally, as it contains sodium and potassium. A small banana along and water also make a simple, whole food solution!
What are your favorite pre and post-workout meals and snacks? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section below – or tweet me @gratefulgrazer!