Optimal nutrient intake before and after exercising helps the body in performing and facilitating speedy recovery from fatigue. This also helps in charting out the intake of carbohydrates (pre) and proteins (post) for enhanced strength and improved body composition. Eating right helps in efficient achievement of fitness goals. Before we dive into an interesting list of pre and post-workout meals, here are a few concerns around eating and workout that we would like to address.
Should you be working out on an empty stomach? Is a pre-workout really important?
Let us start off by saying that pre workout supplements are not important. The major component of pre workout supplements is caffeine which can very well be taken by consuming a regular coffee. However many people also take supplements like Beta Alanine and Creatine before their workout, which are available in a variety of supplements. The benefits or the lack thereof is widely discussed in the community and is a topic of another article, but based on our experience, once you develop a lifestyle and a routine around your workouts, supplements stop having relevance.
Coming to the pre workout meal, working out on an empty stomach is not advisable - or this is what the popular media wants you to believe. While eating 1-2 hours before the exercise can drastically improve performance and energy levels, it is not a deal breaker. If you are the one who works out at 4am like Mark Wahlberg, feel free to skip eating before exercise. One session without food is not going to kill and you are not going to be losing muscle. On the contrary, a lot of people also feel sluggish after eating a meal loaded with only carbohydrates. In case you choose to eat before workout, try to balance it out with the right amount of macro nutrients like proteins, carb and fat. A majority of athletes and serious fitness practitioners however swear by a pre workout meal, taken 1-2 hours before the workout, and mid-workout beverage/snack intake to keep the energy levels up. If the workout duration is long then the absence of food is definitely going to matter and could even lead to reduced stamina and training quality, owing to reduced blood sugar levels which may make you feel lightheaded, nauseous, or shaky.
The best advice here is to try out what feels best. Try both the scenarios - workout with empty stomach and workout after a pre workout meal, notice the difference in energy levels and quality of workout and make adjustments to your routine accordingly. But also be mindful about your workout duration. If you are practicing for a marathon or training for a specific sport lasting for more than 2 hours, the presence of food is going to play a crucial role.
What is the best time for you to eat food before exercise?
If you choose to eat a pre workout meal, refrain from eating right before the workout because digestion is a time taking process, and doing any form of exercise immediately after eating could lead to discomfort in the stomach. For the more intensive workouts, meals should be consumed before 1-3 hours whereas 30 minutes are good enough for the lighter workouts. In case of a shortage of time, try and look at lighter snacks like fruits, nuts, or an energy bar which are easier to digest.
Here are 5 pre-workout meals that you can eat 30 – 40 minutes before starting to work out:
Oats are a whole grain and a great source of carbohydrates and fibre. They can be eaten with fruits, can be boiled like pulao sauteed with vegetables or blended into a fruit smoothie. One bowl is a good enough serving for a person. Oats also help in controlling cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
#2 SPROUTS AND LEGUMES
Sprouts coupled with green vegetables are an excellent way to induce proteins and vitamins in the body. Easy to make they should be soaked in water for at least 6 hours before consumption. To make it tastier, sprinkling oregano or salt and lemon juice is a good option. They also account for a healthier and more beautiful looking skin.
#3 FRUIT SMOOTHIES
Blended alone or together, fruits like mango, banana, pineapple and watermelon makes for a good quick pre-workout snack. The carbs in these fruits breakdown sooner to provide the right amount of energy while working out. Citrus fruits and high water content fruits are good for keeping the muscles on the roll.
#4 WHOLE GRAIN BREAD SANDWICHES
Catch 2 slices of brown bread or any whole grain bread and stuff it with veggies like tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber with a tinge of butter or cheese. For a grilled version, put freshly grated paneer and chopped tomatoes along with salt and pepper. This can also help in curbing the craving for cheese.
#5 CURD AND DRY FRUITS
Curd provides for nutrients like calcium and proteins. Adding grated cucumber with salt and roasted zeera (cumin) makes a good and heavy meal. Dry fruits like raisins, walnuts and almonds can be accompanied to account for the carbohydrates for the needed energy boost.
Now coming to eating food after the workout. This is what we should be seeking answers for:
When should you eat the post-workout meal?
It is advisable to eat good and fast-digesting carbohydrates and protein after the workout. While the 30-minute protein window myth has been well demystified, it is still good to eat a nutritious meal or a small snack within 30-60 minutes of working out, so that you get the burst of energy to move through the rest of the day. If you are doing an IF (Intermittent Fasting), then the timing would change as per your plan.
To know what all you should eat after a workout, check out these options:
Eggs are the way to provide the right amount of proteins and minerals to the body. They can be boiled or scrambled. Consuming milk with a raw egg is an instant source of energy.
Quinoa is gluten free and is a suitable grain for most people. It contains the two most essential post workout nutrients - proteins and carbohydrates. It can be made into khichdi with sauteed vegetables for taste.
#3 LEAFY GREENS
Chop some greens like spinach or kale carrying a high nutritional value and top it with an olive oil dressing. This will help in the restoration of healthy fats in the body.
Grilled chicken accompanied with vegetables will lead to the restoration of energy and fluids which get drained out after the tedious workout session.
#5 CEREAL WITH MILK
To keep the body up and running, eating cereal with milk is one the quickest meal one can consider after working out.
Most importantly, listening to your body and understanding its requirements for fitness is the key to staying healthy. Try to avoid deep-fried food items and hydrate yourself with water all day long.
Kerksick, C. M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B. J., Stout, J. R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L., Kalman, D., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D., Arciero, P. J., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Ormsbee, M. J., Wildman, R., Greenwood, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Aragon, A. A., & Antonio, J. (2017). International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14, 33. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
Parr, Evelyn B.1; Heilbronn, Leonie K.2; Hawley, John A.1 A Time to Eat and a Time to Exercise, Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews: January 2020 - Volume 48 - Issue 1 - p 4-10 doi: 10.1249/JES.0000000000000207