Just like your car, your body needs high-quality fuel to function properly. And that’s especially true during a workout. Finding what works best for you is a result of both science-based nutritional guidance and trial and error, as everybody’s gut is different. Eating a well-balanced meal of complex carbs (fruits, vegetables, or root veggies) and lean protein (grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, or wild-caught fish) two to three hours ahead of your workout is ideal. Carbs supply the energy that sustains you through the workout, and the amino acids in protein repair and build muscle. But if planning that far ahead is not feasible, remember that the closer you get to exercise time, the less food you should gobble down.
Especially if you work out first thing in the morning, be sure your pre-workout meal is well balanced. Choices include:
- Avocado, pear, handful of nuts
- Smoothie with fruit and goat, sheep, or nondairy milk
- Trail mix (nuts, seeds, dried fruit)
Protein drinks are fine, but choose a quality product that is third-party certified. This ensures that the ingredients on the label match what’s actually in the product. Always check labels for artificial ingredients and sugar or sugar substitutes.
Caffeine and Water
One to two cups of caffeinated coffee can improve your mental alertness and boost energy levels. However, nothing is more important than water: two to three cups before exercise; one-half to one cup every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout; and as much as you can drink afterwards. Water replaces what you’ve lost in sweat and regulates body temperature for the cooldown. It also helps prevent muscle cramps, removes toxins, and transports nutrients to where your body needs them.
Eating within 30 to 60 minutes of your workout is essential to facilitate muscle repair. If your goal is to build strength and muscle, it’s recommended that you eat a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. A good ratio for the more casual exerciser or for those age 50+ is 3:1. And, if you’re a high-endurance athlete, a 4:1 ratio is recommended. Suggested post-workout meals:
- Eggs scrambled with veggies and half a sweet potato
- Turkey and avocado lettuce wrap with plantain chips
- Salmon, sweet potato, and veggies
- Chicken, pumpkin, and veggies
- Beef, riced cauliflower, and veggies
Sports drinks can replace electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and magnesium), which assist in hydration. Always check the ingredients and avoid drinks with added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Coconut water also works.
What you eat and drink before and after exercise depends on the intensity and duration of your workout, so add or subtract from your intake in relation to how much fuel your body actually needs.
Foods to Choose
- Grass-fed or pastured beef, chicken, turkey, and eggs
- Wild-caught salmon, cod, tuna
- Sweet potato, pumpkin
- Cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, spinach
Nuts and seeds
- Nuts – pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts
- Seeds – chia, flax, hemp, sesame
- Oils – olive, walnut, flaxseed, avocado, coconut
Foods to Avoid
- Rich, greasy foods. Fat takes longer to digest, which can upset your stomach
- Processed foods. Breakfast cereals, microwave meals, tinned veggies, deli meat
- Simple carbs. Candy, sugar, cakes, cookies