Do you know what to eat before and after a workout?

Running shoes and healthy food composition on a wooden table background

Updated July 20th 

Started running, working out or swimming? Or maybe you already do a physical activity? You must already know that a good diet is essential when you’re active. It’s what will give you the energy needed to perform better, recover better and decrease risk of injury.

Without know very much about the best foods to eat before and after a workout, chances that you’ll devour everything in front of you once you get home are pretty great. This little guide on sports food will answer your questions about the right choices to make throughout the day. Knowing that we all have different nutritional needs with various training objectives, this guide will serve as a reference to find the right balance and be in peak shape from morning to night. So let’s get going!

What to eat before working out

Eat to move better

peanut butter bread with banana

If you’re one of those people who like to train first thing in the morning, it’s important to take time to eat a little something before you start. As your machine has been fasting all night, it’ll need a little gas to restart from zero. No need to inhale a big meal. A snack could be enough to give you a little boost of energy.

If you plan on doing a short, not-so-intense physical activity, you could wait till after to eat a complete breakfast. Ideally, listen to your body and find what works best for you. However, you should make sure never to get hungry while exercising as this can affect your physical abilities and ruin your workout.

Put carbohydrates on your plate

Best sources of carbohydrates

 

Even if Popeye fuelled up on it to get stronger, it’s certainly not because of spinach that you’ll be able to enhance your sports performances. Before an activity, you should always consume food that is rich in carbohydrates. Why? Simply because your body digests it more quickly and your muscles will get the energy they need to work. It’s possible to find sources of carbohydrates in fruits and veggies, dairy products and cereal products. Here are the top 10 best sources of carbohydrates:

1. Banana
2. Berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries
3. Brown rice
4. Granola bars with fruit and nuts
5. Low fat yoghurt
6. Oatmeal
7. Whole grain bread
8. Whole grain pasta
9. Sweet potato
10. Dried fruit

Hydrate yourself

Did you know that poor hydration can decrease performance and bring on physical symptoms like cramps, headaches and dizziness? That’s why it’s important to keep well hydrated before, during and after exercise – in other words, all day long! This will facilitate blood circulation and energy flow, as well as maintain body temperature. We advise you not to wait till you’re thirsty before drinking. Being thirsty is a sign that you’re already dehydrated.

When working out, we suggest that you drink water three or four times every 15 minutes to replace the loss of water and salt. However, this number can vary depending on the weather and the duration of your activity. Here’s a little reminder:

Working out for 60 minutes or less

Water is sufficient to hydrate you. Drink at regular intervals.

Working out for an hour or more

You can drink beverages containing carbohydrates and a little salt to renew energy and compensate for losses. Store-bought sport drinks often contain a lot of sugar, so we propose a few homemade recipes that are much healthier:

When choosing a sports drink, check that it doesn’t contain more than 8 g of carbohydrates per 100 ml.

8 food to avoid before training

Woman avoid bad foods

 

Avoid

Examples of food

Possible effects

Food that is rich in fat

Pastries, store-bought muffins, fatty meats, fries, etc.

  • Slower digestion
  • Lower energy
Food that is rich in protein

Butcher’s meat (beef, pork, etc.), protein supplements, protein bars, etc.

  • Slower digestion
  • Less available energy
Food that is rich in fiber

Kidney beans, All-Bran type cereal, flax seed, chia seed, broccoli, etc.

  • Stimulates intestinal transit
  • Favours elimination
  • Can cause diarrhea
 Spicy food

Spicy dishes

  • Difficult to digest before activity
Food that cause gas

Broccoli, brussels sprouts, hummus, légumes, etc.

  • Feel bloated
Salty foodChips, cold cuts, salty cheese, frozen dinners, etc.
  • Dehydrates
New foodFood or meals that you don’t usually eat
  • Gastro-intestinal trouble
Energy drinks and alcoholic beveragesWine, beer, Redbull-type drinks
  • Increases risk of dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Intestinal discomfort
  • Alters movement that require coordination (alcoholic beverages)

Food chronometer for better performance

Snacks or intelligently timed meals will give you the boost needed to feel better about yourself when you’re doing sports. The goal is to consume food that will give you maximum energy while limiting discomfort like cramps, bloating or belly aches. Here are food ideas to eat depending how much time there is between your meals and activity.

3 to 4 hours before an activity: regular, balanced meal

sandwich, veggies and fruit yoghurt

Whole grain sandwich + an apple + raw veggies + glass of milk
Salmon filet + brown rice + cooked veggies + fruit salad + soya milk
2 pieces of toast with almond butter + a banana + berries
Cinnamon multigrain and yoghurt pancakes + berries
Grilled chicken and veggies quesadillas + 1 glass of milk + grapes
Meat lasagna + glass of vegetable juice + fruit yoghurt

2 to 3 hours before activity: meal rich in carbohydrates, low in saturated fat and protein

Vegetable soup

Vegetable soup with cheese and crackers
Pasta and tuna salad with a low fat yoghurt
Egg salad sandwich with vegetable juice and low fat yoghurt
Peanut butter on toast with a little honey and a glass of milk

1 to 2 hrs before activity: a good snack that has carbohydrates and a few proteins

Oatmeal with caramelized apples

½ cup of hot apple oatmeal
Whole grain crackers with fruit and a few cubes of cheese
Milk-based fruit smoothie
Half a chicken sandwich
Greek yoghurt with granola and berries
1 apple with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
1 apple with a homemade muffin
½ cup of cottage cheese with ½ cup of fruit (cantaloupe, pineapple or strawberries make the best combinations)

Less than an hour before activity: one or two foods that are rich in carbohydrates

Banana muffins in blue paper cupcake case

Homemade muffin 
Banana
Dried fruit
Fruit yoghurt
Peanut butter and blueberry cookies
Almond chocolate chips granola bar
Slice of homemade banana bread

Keep in mind that the more time you have before working out, the more balanced and complete your meal should be. The opposite is also true. If it’s close to the time you’ll be working out, your snack should be lighter, but richer in carbohydrates.

What to eat to best recover after a workout

Granola bar with milk and apple

Once you’re done training, think about consuming something that has carbohydrates and protein like a vegetable juice, drinkable yoghurt, cheese and crackers, or chocolate milk. For maximum recovery, we suggest you eat a little something 30 minutes following the end of your workout. This will allow you to completely recharge your energy, repair your muscle tissues and rehydrate.

Even if you do physical activity to lose weight, a meal or snack after training won’t ruin your efforts. On the contrary, some good post-workout food will not only help you recover, but prevent injury to keep you at your best the next day.

Your choice of snack or meal should depend on when you leave the gym. If you train just before supper, you could have a complete and balanced meal made up of carbohydrates, protein and good fat (lipids) immediately after your activity. The same if you train before lunch.

Snacks to recover: 4 key words to remember

4 key words snack after a workout

Here are a few snack ideas to end your activity on a good note:

A cup of cereal with a cup of milk
An apple with a few cubes of cheese
Pita bread with hummus
A Greek yoghurt with fruit
A vegetable juice with a homemade muffin
1 cup of chocolate milk
Homemade sports recovery cookie
Trail mix with dried fruit and almonds (or other nuts)

If you opt for a regular meal, here are a few good recipe ideas that are comforting and delicious after sports:

Grilled salmon and orzo
Cottage cheese and chocolate pancakes
Chicken and vegetable stir-fry
Veggie tofu stir-fry and vermicelli
Chicken skewers with whole grain rice and cooked broccoli
Quinoa salad
Bagel with turkey, brie, apple and cucumber

The 5 pluses of sports nutrition

The 5 pluses of sports nutrition

More water

Even though water doesn’t really taste like anything, it’s considered a veritable elixir when it comes to its numerous virtues. As well as maintaining your body temperature, water helps you digest food better, absorb nutrients and eliminate waste. Are you properly hydrated?

More carbohydrates

You have to remember that carbohydrates are the preferred energy of your muscles and your brain. Before training, it’s the primary fuel to sink your teeth into! Do you know the difference between simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates?

More fiber

Did you know that most Canadians don’t get enough fiber in their diet? As well as helping to control blood cholesterol, this nutritious element regulates intestinal transit and satiating power that help you better manage your weight. Do you eat enough fiber?

More meals

To have energy all day long, ideally you should spread out your snacks and meals. We suggest consuming five small meals per day, the equivalent of three meals and two snacks. Do you know how to prepare fast and easy snacks?

More balance

To ensure that your body gets all its nutritional needs, it’s important to incorporate all the food groups into your diet when you’re training. Choose fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins and low fat foods. Know that a balanced diet is always important even if you’re not doing regular physical activities.

 

Remember that an active lifestyle always goes with a balanced diet. The food you eat plays an essential role in your health and that’s why you have to get informed when it comes to making choices. If you want results or want to stay motivated, it’s always important to have the energy required. Try not to deprive yourself and give in to a treat once in a while because the key to success is knowing how to balance!

What to eat before and after a workout

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