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Eating Pre- and Post-Workout

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams-Evans, MA

Dear Fun and Fit: What should we eat before and after a workout? (there are loads of different stories about it).

Hanna, Mooncoin, Ireland

What’s the best thing to consume BEFORE a workout? And how long should you wait after eating before hitting the gym for maximum performance and gain?

Mary, Holland, Michigan

A: Hanna and Mary, have you two met? Similar question – different countries. Destined to meet and eat. Before and after a workout you should eat…wait for it…food. Healthful food. Stand back, experts at work. Dare I say carbohydrates and protein? In an excellent article, Jenna Bell-Wilson, PhD, RD, LD (this all means she’s an official expert) gives more complete details, but here are some carb/protein combo nuggets of info for you (no chickens were harmed in the making of our nuggets):

whole-grain toast and peanut butter
orange and cottage cheese
yogurt and granola
nuts and apple
hard-boiled egg and wheat bagel
chicken breast (still not a nugget) and rice
string cheese and pretzels

If you are looking for the donut and coffee combo, I’ll just tell you now, it ain’t going to happen. We would never recommend such a combo (although a certain twin who is NOT Alexandra would consider consuming it.

K: Hold on. I don’t drink coffee. Gee, what kind of aspersions are you casting about, twin who is NOT mine. As for the aspect of timing your food and workouts, the best answer is to listen to your own body. Mine tells me to skip the coffee and donuts – so there! – but to eat for sure. In fact, I am one of those hearty sorts who can exercise intensely five minutes after eating, no prob.  In general, though, time your workouts according to your meal size. If you eat a large meal — of carbs and protein — wait two to four hours before intensely exercising. If you want to work out sooner after you eat, then chow down on a smaller meal and wait about an hour or two. The Mayo Clinic further suggests that you eat protein and carbs within two hours post-workout.

But you know what? I live in the practical, real world. If I want to work out in the morning, I for sure want to eat brekkie first. But I am not going to wait until midday – three or four hours post brekkie – to get a’ goin’. Nor am I going to wake up at “too early stupid o’clock” to eat at 4:10am to be able to catch an 8:00am class. Remember the big picture: eat when you are hungry; be active as much as you can; focus on carbs and protein pre- and post-workout. Ta da!

A: Here’s what I always tell my students at the U–the closer it is to the ground, the better it is for you. The best workout food is grown, not processed into a foodlike substance (as Michael Pollan calls it).

So this: yes

And this: no

K: Dear regular fit people (not high-level, competitive athletes):  in case you are busy timing and planning your food and exercise, let me sum up the relevant portion of the article my sis recommended. “…consume a balanced snack 2–3 hours prior to exercise and … consume a carbohydrate- and protein-containing snack or meal following the session to help (you) advance (your) workout, enhance (your) glycogen stores and recover successfully.”
Please pass the box of chocolates.

Readers: What are your hot tips on what and when to eat relative to your workouts. And don’t tell us anything boring or we’ll drown our boredom in a donut.

Photo credits: Creative Common

About Fun and Fit

Get practical exercise advice, your fitness questions answered, and cutting edge health edu-tainment that is accessible and doable from long time fitness experts, Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA. We have taught on land, sea, and airwaves for 3 decades on 4 continents. From writing to speaking, emceeing to hosting a radio show, reviewing products to teaching classes, we believe that little steps turn into big paths. Move a little more than the day before. FitFluential Ambassadors and award-winners both online and off.

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7 Responses to Eating Pre- and Post-Workout

  1. Jeff November 11, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    I like to workout in the morning so I don’t eat because I want to burn that fat. I just take a pre-workout supplement like jack3d which get me pumped up so I can knock out those reps! Post-workout is the most important so follow it up by a scoop of whey isolates mixed with a scoop of the best stuff out there…Shakeology!!! Interesting post…thanks!
    Jeff recently posted..Increase the IntensityMy Profile

  2. Sunil November 12, 2010 at 1:54 am #

    eat out and work out…..

    that’s my life policy :)

  3. Farah November 14, 2010 at 1:03 am #

    I usually have a high energy-content snack before working out like a banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter or oatmeal. I have lots of water on my way to the gym (but not too much that I get bloated). The drive there takes about 10 minutes and getting ready another 5, so all in all I wait about 15 minutes before I start warming up and working-out. I find that if I do try anything in less than 15 minutes, I end up feeling sick to my stomach :(

    Post-workout, I usually take my time to shower and get ready so I probably wait 30 minutes before having a proper meal. Sometimes I take less time. What I find is that the duration of time between finishing my workout and having a meal doesn’t really affect my body. What is definitely affects me more is WHAT I eat and how often I eat. I make sure I eat regularly, with suitable portions and with relatively balanced nutrition.

    Loving the articles, by the way — keep it up, guys! :)

  4. Kristen @ Be Fit With Kristen October 17, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    Great question. For me it depends on the exercise and time of day. When I teach my 6am spin class I have oatmeal with protein powder and some sort of fruit. I can do this right before the workout without issue. If I go for a run then I eat something lighter such as banana with peanut butter. If my workout is mid morning, a few hours after eating breakfast then I usually eat a Lara bar. Thanks for the suggestions.

  5. Daniel July 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Well, I do not eat before workout, however, right after the workout I drink weight gainer or whey protein shake.
    Daniel recently posted..How to Increase Muscle InduranceMy Profile

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