They say you are what you eat, so it stands to reason that a diet packed with nutritious food will help you on your way to getting the best fitness and sports results.
But when it comes to working out and eating, when’s best to do it? Is there an optimum time to eat a snack or main meal? And what’s best to eat? They’re common queries, and we’re going to answer them right now…
Should you eat before or after a workout?
It’s possible to do both. Eating before workouts helps provide your body with the energy it needs to get through your exercise session, and eating afterwards enables you to refuel. However, it’s important you eat at the right time and eat the right food (more on this below).
What nutrients are important for exercise?
If you’re working out regularly and want to eat before or after workouts, it’s best to top up with food that’s rich in protein and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide energy for exercise and protein is needed for muscle growth.
What to eat before exercise
Ideally, you want to eat a light snack about an hour before you exercise. By light snacks, we mean:1
- Fruit – e.g. a banana
- A slice of wholegrain bread with a thin layer of nut butter
- Yoghurt or non-daily alternatives
- Cottage cheese and crackers
- A plain or fruit scone with low fat cheese
- A glass of milk or non-dairy alternative
What should you not eat before a workout?
Steer clear of food that your body isn’t going to digest very easily, particularly fatty and high fibre foods, such as:2
- High fibre cereals
- Raw vegetables
- Lots of nuts
Staying hydrated during exercise
It can be easy to forget about your fluid intake when you’re focused on what to eat. Here’s some guidance on how to stay hydrated during exercise.
- Before exercise – drink two cups of fluid, ideally water, two hours before working out.
- During exercise - aim to drink to 4 to 6oz of water/drink every 15 to 20 minutes to keep your muscles hydrated.
- After exercise – drink 20oz of fluid/water for every 1Ib you lose.
What to drink: Tap or bottled water. If you’re exercising for longer than an hour, drink fruit juice diluted with water or a sports drink, which will provide you with for energy and minerals to replace the sodium, potassium and magnesium you lose while sweating.
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What to eat after exercise
Add these foods to your diet to give your body the nutrients it needs to refuel after working out.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, plant-based protein sources like soybeans, kidney beans and chickpeas are essential. Full of fibre, they’re filling and are packed with essential minerals.
Many types of beans contain calcium and phosphorous, which your body needs to maintain healthy bones – a must if you take part in high impact exercise.
This ruby-coloured root vegetable may support performance. Nitrates in beetroots or beetroot juices may improve physical performance, especially during high intensity exercises, such as running.
Blend beetroot into a smoothie with apples and protein-rich almond butter for a refreshing pre-workout drink.
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In one small study, blueberries appeared to speed up muscle recovery following demanding leg exercises.
Start the day with blueberry pancakes or scatter a handful of blueberries on your porridge for a filling breakfast to keep you going until lunch.
It’s easy to see why chia seeds were prized by Aztec warriors. These small, black seeds provide a balance of energy fuel and protein.
They’re also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids that may help to keep your heart healthy, combat and boost mental performance, critical for keeping you focused on your goals.
Sprinkle chia seeds on salads, add them to smoothies or soak them overnight in milk for an alternative to porridge.
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Go to work or workout on an egg and you’ll be provided with an excellent, natural source of essential amino acids. Each large egg often contains 6g of protein, with research showing that eating enough protein can help increase muscle mass and maintain bone health.
A source of fibre, flaxseeds are also a good source of Vitamin B. Flaxseeds are also rich in the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
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With a whopping 11g of protein found in every three tablespoons, hemp seeds are a wonderful source of plant-based proteins for vegans. They’re also rich in important minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron.
Calcium and magnesium work together to keep bones healthy and support muscle fatigue, with magnesium also contributing to muscle size and tone. Iron helps athletic performance by helping the normal flow of oxygen around the body.
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A hearty bowl of oats is a wholegrain, high fibre source of energy-supporting carbohydrates. Eating foods high in fibre may help maintain normal glucose levels and will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Quinoa for protein and carbohydrates
Naturally gluten free, tiny grains of quinoa provide protein and carbohydrates. They are also a good source of magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium.
Getting enough potassium is especially important if you exercise on a regular basis because it helps your muscles to work properly and maintain normal blood pressure. And zinc contributes to protein synthesis within your body, which is essential for muscle growth.
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Unlike refined carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar rise and crash quickly, sweet potatoes contain more complex carbohydrate.
They’re also packed full of beta carotene, so try them roasted or mashed instead of white potatoes.
It’s possible to eat before or after workouts, but what you decide to put into your body will depend on the type of exercise you’re doing and how hard it’s going to work you. Also, don’t forget to eat pre-workout foods and post-workout foods that will help you to work harder and look after your body afterwards.
Last updated: 13 May 2021
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