Over the last few months I’ve had a handful of people ask me to write a blog post on pre- and post-workout nutrition for the “everyday” individual. It’s true, a lot of the pre- and post-workout nutrition information out there – especially the ones written by credible sources – are often geared more towards athletes or those completing some sort of training program. What about us everyday people who just like to move?
I will say that placing an emphasis on fuelling for your exercise, movement, workouts, whatever you want to call it (it’s all interchangeable here) does honestly depend on the type of movement that you like to do. You don’t need to place as much emphasis on your pre- and post- exercise nutrition if your preferred movement is low-intensity and/or irregular or less frequent. Hey – no judgement here, movement is movement – so do you and do it however you want to do it.
My point is that muscle recovery and glycogen (we’ll talk about that soon) replenishment will happen on it’s own say, if your workouts are spaced out every 2 or three days or something like that. If you like to move on a more frequent schedule or multiple days in a row (which is also totally ok as long as you enjoy it and take rest when you need it) and your movement of choice is moderate-to-high intensity, considering pre- and post-workout nutrition recommendations is beneficial for preparing your body for your next workouts. Again, you do you, boo.
If you’re planning to do some form of moderate-to-high intensity exercise – fuel that body! Before our workouts, we want our nutrition focus to be on our bodies’ primary source of energy – carbs. As a general rule for pre-workout snacks, I typically recommend eating it 1-2 hours before. The snack should be mainly carbohydrates with minimal amounts of protein or fat. If you’re having your snack 1-2 hours before, a mix of complex and simple carbohydrates will benefit you best – especially if your workout will be an hour or more. Complex carbohydrates (think whole grain foods and starchy veg) take longer to breakdown in our bodies, keeping us feeling fuller. Simple carbohydrates (often found in fruit) are broken down and used for energy much quicker. When we think about it, our bodies will use the simple carbohydrates first or early on in your exercise. As your workout progresses and the simple carbs are used up, the complex carbohydrates eaten will likely be available for use. Once these are used up, our bodies’ turn to stored carbohydrates – hello again, glycogen! – for energy.
If you don’t have much time before your exercise and are having your snack within 1 hour of your workout, I recommend trying to consume mainly simple, lower-fibre carbohydrates in order to prevent upsetting your GI system. No one wants cramping, gas or having to run to the bathroom mid-spin class! If I’m working out in half an hour and need a quick-digesting carbohydrate boost – a banana or an orange are my go-tos!
Snacks (1-2 hours pre-movement):
Banana & Nut Butter – The simplest of simple snacks. Gives you a nice boost of carbohdyrates with a smaller amount of protein and fat to hold you over until after the workout. I usually recommend one medium banana + 1 tbsp nut butter.
Energy Bites – There are so many simple and delish energy bites recipes out there. Try these Cookie Dough Energy Bites from Pinch of Yum!
PB & J Rice Cakes – Another simple one. Just spread 2 rice cakes with 1 tbsp peanut butter (divided) and 1 tsp jam/jelly each.
After your moderate to intense exercise, it’s important to help our bodies recover. We want to replenish the carbohydrate stores that we’ve used up and aid our muscles in recovering and building. Your post-workout refuel is especially important if you’re planning to exercise again soon (like the next day). Food can help us speed up the recovery process and feel energized for our next workout. So what should you eat?
In terms of recovery nutrition or post-workout nutrition, there are three components of importance. Carbohydrates, protein and fluids. A lot of times we see emphasis on protein post-workout. While yes, it’s definitely important, what is often not mentioned is that carbohydrates are essential for recovering and replenishing our bodies after exercise. This is because during our exercise, we use up the carbohydrates eaten in our pre-workout snack and then our bodies turn to glycogen for more energy. Glycogen is our bodies’ stored form of carbohydrates (sugar), found in the muscles and the liver. Because we tap into this during our workouts it’s important that we replace it afterwards. Now, the reason we need protein after a workout is because when we’re using our muscles in strength training, running, boxing, pilates, barre, whatever, we’re actually breaking them down. Protein is needed for our bodies to repair, maintain and build new muscle.
The general rule is to have about 15-25 grams of protein within 30 minutes (ideally) to an hour after exercise and to have a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein in your snack (typically around 30-50g of carbs). Macronutrient counting or tracking is not something I recommend, but it does help to have an idea of which foods provide carbohydrates and which provide protein (and a general idea of how much) if you’re interested in how to recover best after your exercise. You can read my post all about protein here. Additionally, if your workout is high-intensity or long (greater than 60 minutes), it’s recommended to eat within 30 minutes and then again within 2 hours of finishing that workout.
The final thing we want to think about after exercise is hydration or fluids. Most post-workout hydration recommendations rely on sweat rates or pounds lost during exercise and I’m not about to ask you to hop on the scale before and after exercise. Remember, this is pre- and post-workout nutrition for “non-athletes”. I would just say to remember to make a point of drinking water after your movement and to continue sipping all day long afterwards as well.
Snacks (30-60 minutes post-workout):
Scrambled Eggs & Toast – One of my fave things to eat post-workout is 2 slices of whole wheat toast spread with a little butter and topped with 2 scrambled eggs.
Greek Yogurt Parfait – Another easy and delicious snack. Just layer about 3/4-1 cup cup Greek yogurt with 1/2-2/3 cup granola and 1/2 cup berries.
Protein Smoothie – Often times if your workout was on the higher-intensity side you may not feel like eating right after exercise. Getting your nutrition in liquid form is an easy way to do so without upsetting your stomach. Blend 1 serving of protein powder OR 3/4-1 cup Greek yogurt with a banana, 1/2-1 cup fruit of choice and water/milk of your choice.
Finally, I just want to note that these are quite general recommendations and you may need more/less depending on the level of your workouts and how hungry you feel. These are also just some simple pre-and post-workout snack ideas and there are so many other options that could work for you, too. Additionally, these are snack recommendations. If you’re having a meal after your workout, that’s fine too! The protein and carb ratios should be similar, perhaps just larger portions.
And lastly (for real this time) and because I know you’ll ask. You don’t necessarily need to eat before a workout if you’re moving first thing in the morning. Often times people don’t feel they can stomach anything at this time or they don’t have enough time to eat. No worries! I will say that if your workout is going to be longer than 1 hour you’ll probably need some fuel. Try a banana or a granola bar (not a protein bar) as these things will digest quickly when you’re short on time.
Wishing you all joyful movement and nourishing snacks! If you have questions, drop them below in the comments!