Preworkout Meal and Snack Suggestions
Some recommended meals for 2 to 4 hours pre exercise include the following:
- Porridge oats made with water, added berries and ground flaxseeds—Oats provide a great slow release of energy whilst the berries provide antioxidant vitamins. Flaxseeds are high in omega-3s, and they lower the GI of the meal further.
- Broth-based soup with chicken and soft vegetables—Lean protein and easily digestible vegetables are a great combination of slow-release carbohydrate and protein. As an added bonus, the broth provides fluid for hydration.
- Sweet potato with tuna—Sweet potato has a lower GI value than a regular potato and is packed with vitamins, whilst the tuna provides a great protein addition.
- Boiled egg and fresh fruit—Eggs are loaded with protein and are easily digested by most people. Combine with a banana or melon which are an easily digestible fruit choice.
- Oatcakes with cottage cheese—Oatcakes are a light snack that, when combined with 100 grams plus of cottage cheese, feel quite substantial and satisfying. Cottage cheese is high in protein and low in fat. Combine it with pineapple chunks or herbs for added flavour.
- Baby food—This may sound like an odd choice for an adult, but it is easily sourced and digested by the human gut at any age. Good choices are those with fruits or vegetables. Combine them with chopped meats such as turkey, fish or chicken.
- Meal-replacement bars—Though these are our least recommended option for added protein, due to being highly processed, they can be a valuable go-to option when real food is not readily available, and they can be purchased almost everywhere and carried in your bag. Though most are primarily carbohydrate based, some also contain protein to slow the glycaemic reaction and add some BCAA to the meal. However, they can be dry, and they may draw fluids from your body into the gut to assist with digestion, leaving you dehydrated, so you must drink lots of water with them.
- Blended low-fibre fruit, fruit juice and protein powder—Combining easily digested carbohydrate—again with protein, including BCAA—helps the body release energy slowly. Some people can stomach this liquid formula more easily than whole foods. Add some low-fat yogurt if you want to create a more substantial meal.
Also, as mentioned in the previous section, you can have a snack 10 minutes before exercise. Select a carbohydrate source with a moderate to high GI for instant energy. Good choices include bananas, dried fruit and cereal bars. However, be careful of too much sugar as this may cause a rebound drop in blood glucose levels (hypoglycaemia) during your workout, leading to light-headedness, nausea and early fatigue. As a guide, limit the amount of sugar in your preworkout snack to fewer than 25 grams (one medium banana contains approximately 18 g of sugar).
Some recommended snacks for 10 minutes before exercise include the following:
- Dried fruit—A small serving (about 30 grams) of dried fruit such as raisins provides instant energy.
- Natural yogurt with honey—Honey is a natural sugar with a high GI value for instant energy. Combine with natural yogurt for a light snack (provided you do not suffer adverse effects from dairy) or simply add a spoonful to warm water for a liquid snack.
- Banana—This fruit has a high GI value for instant energy and contains potassium to help balance your electrolytes. Sometimes just half or a few mouthfuls can be enough to provide an energy boost without making you feel too full.
- Berries—Sweet and easily digested, a handful of berries such as raspberries, blueberries or strawberries are ideal.
- Mini pancakes—Commercially available and light and easily digested for a preworkout energy boost, one to three pancakes do the job! Even better if you can make your own and add berries to the mix!
- Jaffa cakes—These are also light and easily digested before training. They are calorific if too many are eaten (they are very tasty!) so moderate your intake to three or four depending on your size and energy needs.
- Sports drink or gel—Consuming 100 to 200 calories from a drink or gel with around 200 millilitres of water provides an effective energy boost for those who can’t stomach whole foods.
How Much to Eat?
The number of calories you consume in your preworkout meal (and preworkout snack) will depend on the timing of your meal, the length and intensity of your workout and your body size. So you should consume more calories the larger you are, the sooner you eat before your workout and the longer or more intense your workout will be. The closer you are to your workout, the less you should eat. The following guide is for calorie consumption according to when you choose to eat your preworkout meal or snack:
- 4 hours pre workout: 400 to 500 calories
- 2 hours pre workout: 200 to 400 calories
- 10 minutes pre workout: 100 to 200 calories (often suitable as liquid)
You’ve just pushed out your final repetition or powered through the last few gruelling minutes of that spin class. You’re now ready for some essential recovery nutrition to get the best results from your training and remain consistent across all workouts.
Your postworkout fuelling begins with a snack during the all-important 30-minute window immediately after exercise, when your body is at its most receptive to the nutrients you consume, and then continues with a meal 2 to 4 hours post exercise. The goals during this 30-minute window are to replace your muscles’ carbohydrate stores and provide protein to repair the naturally occurring muscle damage that takes place during exercise, especially when you have performed strength and power work. It is also vitally important you rehydrate and replace your body’s electrolytes. Your refuelling goal for 2 to 4 hours post workout is complete nutrition that focuses on macronutrient recovery, primarily that of carbohydrate and protein. After 4 hours, your diet should reflect your general needs as an endurance- or strength-based athlete or general exerciser.
The following sections address postworkout macronutrient needs during the 30-minute window and the 2 to 4 hours after exercise, as well as your hydration and electrolyte requirements.
Within 30 minutes after exercise, choose carbohydrates with a high GI, such as sports drinks containing glucose (isotonic or hypertonic), for quick replacement of muscle glycogen. This liquid meal begins the rehydration process, and it is easier to stomach than whole foods. If you can stomach whole foods, then your choices will be similar to the 10-minute preworkout snacks identified earlier, as they contain readily available glucose.
During an intense 1-hour workout, it’s possible to use 30 grams (1 oz) of muscle protein for fuel. Protein sources, especially those rich in BCAA, should therefore be taken during this 30-minute window at a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of around 4:1 after an aerobic endurance training session and 2:1 after a resistance training or anaerobic session. Research indicates that a good carbohydrate–protein combination post workout leads to a significantly greater muscle glycogen replacement as well as greater strength development compared to ingesting carbohydrate alone. Opt for complete protein sources such as egg whites or whey protein powder in a recovery drink as they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs for the purpose of resynthesis of muscle protein and they can be easily digested immediately post workout. An intense workout, especially if strength and power based, also causes some muscle cell damage to occur. This process, as mentioned before, is necessary for muscle rebuilding and development, but it relies on adequate replacement of BCAA, the building blocks for repair. This is present most notably in eggs and through supplementation.