Opting to squeeze in a last-minute workout during your lunch break instead of munching on your power bowl seems like a good idea, right? Not so fast. The truth is, you’re missing out on some major benefits if you aren’t complementing that sweat sesh with the right foods. The thing is, nutrition makes up about 80 percent of the big picture.
Our bodies directly reflect what we put in them, and missing the opportunity for proper pre- and post-workout fueling can take a major toll. With the importance of timing and nutrient specification, we’re here to break it down for you.
Food is fuel.
A healthy and balanced diet is crucial for maintaining optimum health. As everyday Wonder Women, we know how important it is to stay energized and on the go. Food is first-line, preventive medicine—the foundation on which everything else is built.
Food is made up of building blocks called micronutrients and macronutrients. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals, and macronutrients are the well-known carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Our bodies use these nutrients to develop and repair cells and tissues, to protect against and fight sickness, and to provide enough energy for all of our activities, from juggling the chaotic workload to carpooling the kids to soccer practice.
When we throw working out into our daily routine, food becomes even more important. If kept on point, it fuels us during the exercise, allows us to develop muscle, promotes quick recovery, and even supports lean body mass. If your diet isn’t balanced, then your body won’t be either!
Consuming enough of each macronutrient is crucial, but many individuals find themselves slipping on one in particular. Protein! When you’re an avid sweater, you can’t neglect the protein. For most individuals, 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is sufficient. But if you’re resistance training and working toward weight loss, bump the intake up to 2.3 to 3.0 grams per kilogram of body weight.
It’s one of the most important factors in what we’re about to lay out for you, and you’ll see why. Let’s dig in.
Pre-Workout: Setting You up for Success
It may seem convenient to train on an empty stomach, but skipping out on that pre-workout meal can actually lead to increased catabolism (more on this later) and cortisol production. Not good, friends! Without adequate stores and readily available nutrients, your body has to rely on drawing out protein from your kidneys and liver.
This means that essential areas of muscle are lost, which can ultimately slow your metabolism down as a result—keeping you from that weight loss goal you’re going after. Instead of moving into muscle-building mode, your body has retreated into starvation mode with the high demand. Not to mention, without that boost of energy from a well-timed meal, you’ll be lacking enough energy to push through your workout with the highest intensity.
Before exercising, imagine dishing out a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates and protein, and aim for a 1- to 2-hour window for the most benefits.
Because fats take longer to digest, try to minimize these during your pre- and post-workout meals. You want the carbohydrates and protein immediately shuttled to the muscles you’re about to torch. Mix both simple and complex carbs in this meal. The combination will give you the fast-acting energy to get you going and the lasting energy to crush your entire training session.
For simple carbs, reach for granola, toast, or a piece of fruit. Our favorites? Bananas and berries. Why not get in an added dose of those beloved micronutrients? For complex carbs, make some sweet potatoes, brown rice, oats, or quinoa. When deciding on a protein, choose leaner cuts of meat (like chicken or turkey breast), fish, or eggs. If you’re in a fruity mood, make yourself a yummy bowl with a scoop of plain Greek yogurt.
Post-Workout: Recovery Mode
After exercise, your body is wiped and begging to be replenished. You’ve emptied your glycogen stores pushing through those last few burpees, and supplying your muscles with nutrients is crucial. Protein is more important now than ever! It’s the difference between catabolism (muscle breakdown) and anabolism (muscle building).
During a workout, we make microtears in our muscles. A sufficient dose of protein helps repair those tears, stimulate further muscle growth, and keep the metabolism firing. When reaching for a carb source, make sure it’s complex. The carbs in this meal are responsible for refilling your glycogen stores and giving you an extra boost of energy to make it through that evening grocery haul and kiddo roundup.
In the same way you did with your pre-workout meal, minimize fats to ensure a quick breakdown of food and thus sustained anabolism. The key with your post-workout meal is eating (or drinking) it within a 1-hour window of finishing up. Stack your plate with some brown rice or quinoa, steamed veggies, and ultra protein sources like fish, chicken breast, or tempeh. If you’re on a time clock and rushing out of the gym, gulp down a smoothie to get the job done. We have a quick and delicious option below!
Time to Grub
Here are a few examples of meals and snacks we’re loving. Remember, there’s no need to get fancy. Just nourish your body with the foods it needs to flourish. Make these items in bulk ahead of time so they’re easy to grab when you’re on the go.
- Cinnamon-baked sweet potato + chicken breast
- Oatmeal with a handful of fresh blueberries + hard-boiled eggs
- Plain Greek yogurt + a sprinkling of granola + banana
- Brown rice + steamed broccoli + lemon-baked salmon
- Quinoa + black beans + tempeh
- Ezekiel toast + tuna salad (opt for hummus over mayo to keep it clean!)
- Smoothie: Oats + strawberries + cacao powder + plant-based protein powder (with a bit of water or almond milk for your desired consistency)