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Updated 06 January 2017

What should I eat before and after a workout?

Fuelling up on the right foods before and after your workout is an important foundation for any good training programme.

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It’s the start of 2017 and the New Year’s resolution of getting active is probably at the top of most people’s priority list. When it comes to getting ready for a workout, it’s not just about having good gear like the right training sneakers or an expensive heart rate monitor. Making sure you eat correctly before and after your workout also important. 

What should I eat before a workout?

Eating before your workout ensures that you go into the session with your fuel levels topped up to sustain energy levels. Generally, most people can have a meal two to four hours before doing exercise, whereas a smaller snack is best one to two hours before getting moving.  

Read: Check your workout personality

Find a meal or snack that is carbohydrate-rich, low in fibre to prevent tummy upsets, low in fat for easy digestion and, of course, something you like. Bear in mind, though, that everyone is different in terms of their preferences, appetite and what they feel comfortable with eating before exercise.

Try the following:

• Peanut butter on wholegrain bread or toast
• Fruit smoothie
• Sliced apple and yogurt
• A bowl of oats with low-fat milk
• Spaghetti served with a low-fat tomato-based sauce
• Sliced banana and honey on wholegrain toast

Read: 8 healthy snacks to fill you

What is the best food to eat after a workout?

The best post-workout meal or snack should include a combination of carbohydrates and protein. Dairy foods such as flavoured milk, smoothies or fruit yogurt can be a great option as they can provide carbohydrate, protein, fluid and electrolytes in one snack, meeting all the recovery goals at once.

Alternative options are:

• Chicken, avocado and salad on a wholegrain roll
• A bowl of muesli with yogurt and berries
• Tinned tuna on whole grain crackers and a portion of fresh fruit
• Baked beans on wholegrain toast
• Sweet potato with low-fat cottage cheese

Read: Eat right, sleep tight

What about fluid?

When you are training, aim to start a workout well hydrated. You can add chopped fruit, mint or sliced lemons to make water more appetising. Caffeine should be considered on an individual basis – some people find that caffeine improves their workout session by reducing fatigue, while others experience symptoms like nausea and anxiety. Fizzy/carbonated drinks may also cause some discomfort, so avoid these before a workout. 

Begin rehydrating as soon as you’ve finished your training session – this should be done before drinking alcoholic drinks as alcohol interferes with repair and recovery of muscle after training. Alcohol also may lead to less than optimal food choices after exercise. 

Read: Drinking enough water can help you stay slim

For a personalised eating plan and dietary advice to suit your training programme and lifestyle, contact a registered dietitian: www.adsa.org.za/findadietitian

Read more: 

Exercise and when to eat

How diet and physical activity affect brain function – Part I

Good nutrition on the job will give you the edge

References

1. Burke, L, and Deakin, D. Clinical Sports Nutrition. 4th edition. 2010. McGraw-Hill, Australia. 
2. Joint Position by the American College of Sports Medicine, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. (2016). Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. pp. 543-568.
3. Potgieter., S. Sport nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition from the American College of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the International Society for Sports Nutrition. (2013). South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 26(1), pp. 6-13.
4. Stearn, RL., Emmanuel HE., Volek, JD, and Casa, DJ. (2010) Effects of ingesting protein in combination with carbohydrate during exercise on endurance performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 24(8), pp. 2192-2202.
5. Williams, MH., Anderson, DE, Rawson, ES. Nutrition for health, fitness and sport. 10th edition. McGraw-Hill, Australia. 2013

The dietitians from Nutritional Solutions are Health24's expert team of registered dietitians.

 
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