By Alejandra Gutierrez, Texas State University Dietetic Intern

Whether you are new to exercising or a fitness veteran, knowing what to eat before and after a workout can make all the difference. As long as you know the basics and pick foods you enjoy, you’ll be fueling like a champ in no time!

Pre-Workout

You may have heard about protein being the best for exercise. While protein does help rebuild our muscles after a workout, carbohydrates, or carbs, give you the energy to workout. Like a car, carbohydrates are like the fuel that gives the car energy to run.

So how much carbohydrate should you have? It depends.

The type of exercise, intensity, and length of your workout will determine how much carbohydrate you should have beforehand.

For 45-60 minutes of light to moderate intensity exercise, have 1-2 carb servings (15-30g):

– 1/2 banana

-1/2 cup cooked oatmeal

-3/4 cup plain, dry cereal

For 60+ minutes of exercise of moderate to heavy intensity exercise have 2-3 carbohydrate servings (30-45g):

-1 slice of bread with 1/2 banana & 1 Tbsp. honey

-3/4 cup plain, dry cereal with  1 cup milk & 1/2 banana

The time you plan to exercise dictates when to have the right amount of carbohydrate.

If you are exercising in 3-4 hours:

– Have enough carb servings (2-4, 30-60g)

– Choose complex carbs (brown rice, sweet potato, oats), which keep blood sugar levels steady

If you are exercising in 30 mins-1 hour:

-Have a small snack of 1-2 carb servings (15-30g)

-Choose simple carbs (fruit, honey, white bread), which are easy to digest

Add some protein

If you are having a meal a snack 1-2 hours before exercise, add some protein in with your carbohydrate snack. The protein will help deliver glucose to your blood stream at a steadier pace to avoid  leaving you without enough energy for your workout. This could look like:

-crackers with cheese

-apple with peanut butter

-1/2 a turkey sandwich

Post-Workout

What you eat after a workout is just as important as what you eat before. Eating enough after exercising is important for recovery and injury prevention. A combination of carb and protein will give your body what it needs to recover and get ready for the next workout.

If you are exercising for 60+ minutes or doing exercise of vigorous intensity (i.e., weightlifting, running, competitive sports, intense yard/house work) try to have a carb protein snack within 1 hour of exercise. Some examples of post-workout snacks are:

– Small 8 oz. glass of chocolate milk

– Half of a turkey & veggie sandwich on whole grain bread

– Greek yogurt with ¾ cup berries or ½ banana

For lighter intensity exercise or exercise lasting <60 minutes, listen to your body. If you are feeling like your blood sugar levels may have dipped too low, then have a snack. If your exercise was light and you are trying to lose weight, focus on getting balanced meals every 3-4 hours. 

If you have diabetes

Exercise naturally lowers your blood sugar since glucose is the muscles preferred source of energy.  If you take insulin, talk to your doctor about adjusting the dose if you take it before exercising. Some tips to avoid low blood sugar levels during exercise:

– Have consistent carb intake and good meal timing

-Always check your blood sugar levels before exercise: If they are within a range of 100-180, you do not need a snack for light exercise. If they are closer to 70-90, or if they are within a normal range but you will be doing vigorous intensity exercise for 60+ minutes, have a snack with at least 1 carb serving 30 minutes before your workout.

Summary

Exercising is important for our health, and we want to make sure we are using nutrition to properly nourish our bodies for the work we do. Keep these tips in mind when getting ready to do a workout session:

– Have 1-2 carb servings (15-30g) as a snack before exercise, depending on the intensity of exercise

– If doing intense exercise, refuel your muscles with some carbs and protein

– If you have diabetes, check your blood sugar levels before and after exercise

– Be consistent with your carbohydrate intake throughout the day. Have carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats at every meal.  

Sources:

https://www.eatright.org/fitness/physical-activity/exercise-nutrition/timing-your-pre-and-post-workout-nutrition
https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/weight-loss/eating-tips-before-after-exercise