Pre and Post Work Out Nutrition – Which Fuel is Best?

Whether you’re an athlete or just starting an exercise routine, it is important to understand nutrition’s role.

Eating too much food, or the wrong food before exercise, can hamper your performance or cause indigestion, sluggishness, nausea and vomiting.

On the other hand, if you haven’t eaten in six hours and try to work out, you may feel weak and unmotivated.

Lets take a look at some of the basics of exercise nutrition so you can get the most of out your workouts.


Fuelling for Optimal Performance

Most studies agree that a high carb diet (50-55% of total calories) is best for athletic performance. A moderate amount of fat (20-25%) is important since fat is a major fuel source.

Protein is vital for maintaining and building muscle mass and about 20% of calories from protein is recommended. Always be sure you are well hydrated before exercise.

It’s best to try out different strategies for eating during practice (ie. varying the timing of meals and snacks), so you can determine the way your body works best.

Experimenting during games or competition can obviously have unpredictable results. Eat every 3-5 hours to keep metabolism high and to maintain glycogen (stored carbohydrate used for energy) stores.


Before Workouts

The key is to have a mixed bag of complex and simple ones so that the release of energy during your workout is slow and steady throughout your routine.

Great pre-workout meals/snacks include:

  • Natural yogurt and trail mix
  • Banana and peanut butter on toast
  • Oats and fresh fruit
  • Apple wedges with almond butter
  • Banana smoothie

Most people feel and perform best if they eat within 1-3 hours before exercising.

If you’re eating only 1 hour before, keep it light: granola bar or ½ banana or yogurt is a good choice).

Avoid eating sweets and sugary foods before exercising; these will make you feel sluggish and low-energy.


During Workouts

If your workouts/games/events are longer than 60 minutes, include some carb-containing food or drink during the workout. If not, then eating during exercise isn’t necessary.

For every hour of exercise try to eat 30-60gm of carbohydrates. Foods that will provide this include one medium sized banana, handful of raisins or a muesli bar.

Keeping hydrated during exercise is most important and a mixture of water and electrolyte containing fluids gives the best results.

Most people tolerate fluids better and an electrolyte powder like Metagenics Endurance and Rehydration Formula gives a good combination of fluid and electrolytes, perfect to drink on the go.

Ideally, drink1.5 litres every 15-20 minutes during your workout or game.


After Workouts

The body is most receptive to replacing glycogen 15-30 minutes after exercise, so always consume carb containing foods or fluids during this window of time (banana, protein/nut bar, tub of yogurt, etc).

Waiting an hour or more to eat will mean your performance will suffer the following day, and you will likely feel fatigued. In addition, eat a substantial snack or meal within 2 hours after exercise.

Aim to eat about 1g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight every hour for up to four hours afterwards. For example, if you weigh 60kg you need to eat about 60g of carbohydrate.

A high carb meal or snack with protein is your best choice: grains (barley, quinoa, brown rice), legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils), banana with peanut butter; yogurt and fruit; or an entire meal such as chicken, pasta or rice, and vegetables.

Some great post workout meals include:

  • Vegetarian omelete with avocado
  • Grilled chicken and mixed vegetables
  • Salmon with sweet potato

This will help recovery significantly, and will refuel your glycogen stores for the next day or next event.

Additionally, taking 1-2 days/week off from workouts allows your muscles to recover and glycogen stores to be replenished.



The Power of The Post Workout Protein Shake

Downed within two hours after exercise, protein-packed shakes are a great way to rebuild tissue that breaks down during exercise.

A protein shake is one of the best sources of protein and carbs that you can consume after working out.

The reason is because it is easily and quickly digested, which gives your body what it needs when it needs it.

Liquids are much easier and faster to digest than whole foods so it goes right to work helping your body make its needed repairs.

Another reason a protein shake is a good choice is because it is balanced appropriately for a post workout meal. This means it does not contain fat or other elements that slow down the digestive process, impeding the quick intake of protein and carbs.

Click here for Emed’s Best Protein Powders.


Staying Hydrated

Hydration is critical to performance, which can suffer with only 1-2% of loss of body water.

Drinking water frequently is the best way to stay hydrated.

Monitor your urine colour on a daily basis to be sure you’re staying hydrated. Urine should be clear to light yellow.

If you take B vitamin supplements, your urine will likely be bright yellow for the next few hours due to the effect of B vitamins.

Don’t be alarmed by this, but check your urine at other times for colour.

Include at least 8 -10 cups water or other non-caffeinated fluid daily, and add to this to replace how much you sweat.

This varies by person, time of year and type of exercise. Monitoring your urine colour will help you figure out how much water you need.


Coconut Water – The Ultimate Sports Drink

Coconut water has become very popular in health food circles over the past couple of years. Now it is replacing Powerade and Gaterade as the go to post work out sports drink.

The key point is its ability to replenish potassium levels. In fact, research has found that coconut water has as much as five times the potassium that’s available in Powerade and Gatorade.

200ml of coconut water contains roughly 422 milligrams of potassium, the same as a medium banana.

Potassium is a key player in rehydration because, along with sodium, magnesium and calcium, the electrolyte helps maintain fluid balance in the body.

Potassium is also crucial to smooth and skeletal muscle contraction, and can help prevent muscle cramps.

Considering these high potassium levels, it’s clear that coconut water is a good choice for anyone engaging in moderate level workouts.


Final Comment

Remember, pre and post workout nutrition isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario.

It can vary depending on the particular type of activity (e.g. endurance versus strength/power) as well as duration and time-of-day.

This article spells out the basics for exercise nutrition, endurance athletes have different nutrient requirements than strength/power athletes and even recreational exercisers.


Further Reading: