You are what you eat: What to eat before and after a workout

Everyone knows that what they put into their body has an impact on their health. 

Fuelling your body with the right foods can make you healthier, while exercise can balance out the effects of a Friday night pizza. 

But, the food you eat and your workouts shouldn’t be two separate things working against each other. 

Making smart decisions about what you eat before and after a workout can help to make your workouts more effective. The right foods can help you boost your fitness and work towards your exercise goals. 

But, your body needs different things at different stages of working out. 

So, to help you get the most out of your workouts and make sure you’re fuelling your body with the right kinds of foods, we’ve put together a guide on what to eat before and after a workout. 

Each body is different and the content of this article should only be used as a suggestion not a strict set of rules. It’s always best to listen to your body and what it needs. 

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What to eat before you workout

How much you eat before you workout will depend on the time of day you’re working out and the type of workout you’re doing. 

Ideally, you want to be fuelling your body up to two hours before you work out. But, obviously, that’s not always possible. The most important thing is staying hydrated before during and after your workout. 

It’s best to stick to simple, easy to digest carbohydrates that will give you a hit of good sugars to keep your energy up during your workout. 

You want to steer clear of too much saturated and trans fat. These types of fat come from animal sources of food, such as red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products as well as artificial sources such as chemically altered vegetable fats. They can raise your cholesterol levels if consumed in too high quantities. 

However, not all fats are bad. Monounsaturated fats are a good source of healthy fat that is great to consume before a workout. Foods such as avocados and many nuts, like almonds, cashews and peanuts are great sources of monounsaturated fats. 

And, before a workout, it’s good to eat a little bit of protein especially if you’re weight training. But you should avoid having too much – save that for after your workout. Think a handful of nuts or some peanut butter rather than a mountain of protein-rich chicken breasts. 

These types of saturated fat, trans fat and protein-filled foods take a long time to digest so they’ll be taking energy-giving blood and oxygen away from your muscles when they need it most. 

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Early morning workouts:

If you’re getting up first thing in the morning and heading straight to the gym you’re not really going to have the time or want a massive meal before you go. 

A banana or fruit-filled smoothie around half an hour before you head to your workout can give you enough energy to get through your morning workout.

As well as getting a hit of slow-release sugar from a banana or something similar, you also want to be hydrating yourself before your workout. A couple of cups of water before you start will 

Heading to the gym after work:

An hour or two before leaving the office to head to the gym, make yourself a small snack to keep your energy up for your workout. 

Something like a peanut butter and jam sandwich is a great option. The bread will give you a serving of simple carbohydrates, while the peanut butter brings the protein to keep you feeling fuller for longer. 

The key to eating before you work out is to consume enough to keep your energy up, but not so much that you feel sluggish and sleepy.

What to eat after you workout

After you work out your body will be in recovery mode. Repairing the damage caused to your muscles from lifting weights or bringing your heart rate down after an intense cardio session. 

Replenishing your body by eating the right kinds of foods soon after you finish exercising will help your body to recover faster and in the right way. 

It is particularly important to consume a good amount of carbs and protein after you’re done working out. This will help your body to reduce muscle protein breakdown, increase muscle protein growth, restore your glycogen stores and enhance your overall recovery. 

Immediately after your workout:

As soon as you finish your workout your main focus should be replacing the water you’ve lost through sweat during your exercise. 

If you’ve exercised for an hour or less then water will be all you need to rehydrate. You shouldn’t have lost enough hydration in under an hour to need anything more. 

But, if you’re working out for longer than an hour you might need some extra help to replace the electrolytes you’ve lost. 

Having a drink of something like coconut water can help with this. Look for a drink which contains electrolytes. Electrolytes include minerals such as sodium, potassium and magnesium which can help to speed up your rehydration. 

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Once you get home:

You can rehydrate on your way home from the gym. But once you get home you’re going to want to eat a decent meal to refuel the calories you’ve just burnt off. 

Meals that are high in protein and complex carbohydrates are your best bet. 

Baked or grilled Chicken and salmon are great sources of protein that help to refuel your body after a hardcore workout. Salmon is full of healthy oils and nutrients while chicken packs in a load of protein with hardly any calories; half of one breast contains 27 grams of protein and only 142 calories.

For complex carbohydrates, look for wholegrain rice, grains such as quinoa and fibre-rich root vegetables like sweet potato. And to bulk out a post-workout meal pile up your plate with loads of vegetables to fill you up and reduce your temptation to snack later on in the day. 

Foods to Avoid

Some types of food are best avoided at any time of the day, before or after your workout. 

Anything rich and greasy is a no go. Your body takes a long time to digest fat which can upset your stomach if you have them before or after working out. 

Too much fibre can also cause some people problems if they eat too much before or after a workout. 

Ultimately, every body is different though so these rules should only be taken as a suggestion. You have got to pay attention to what works best for your individual training and dietary needs and eat according to those. 

For more specific nutrition rules for boxers, check out our blog post here. And, to train like one of the champs, get yourself a pair of Cleto Reyes sparring gloves

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