Pre and Post Workout Fuel

Not long ago I held a survey asking people what they want to hear more about. Surprisingly enough pre and post workout fuel was top on the list. It makes sense because it’s really important, but I was surprised how many people were actually thinking of it-that’s awesome! Because nutrition is one of my favorite topics…I know you didn’t know that already

So let’s hit some of the big factors to deciding what to eat during and after a workout:

  • how long does your activity last
  • how intense is the activity
  • how often does it happen within a given period (aka are you doing 2-a-days?)
  • your goals
  • your body type and composition
  • your tolerance for food/liquid around training times

So that’s a lot of info-but it’s okay, just keep this in mind when I offer some principals and food options. Everyone is different; therefore, what works for one person may not work for another.

Carbohydrates are usually the “make or break” factor for most athletes. Yes everything else is important, but carbs are our first source of fuel (especially us endurance athletes). If our blood sugar drops too low we often hit what we call the “wall”. Fatigue sets in both physically and mentally. If you’re an endurance athlete you know the importance to MENTAL strength.

It’s really important to realize that if you deplete your energy stores while you are working out and have to revert to digging into our “savings account” which can lead to injury, losing muscle, whacking out our hormones, and compromising recovery. So yes, workout nutrition is very important.

So for most people, it’s simple enough to:

  • Follow a normal and consistent eating schedule with a healthy well balance meal of lean protein, healthy fats, and slow-digesting carbs (fruit, veggies, whole grains)
  • Eat carbs in most meals–you need enough to support your activity.
  • Eat your meals every 3-4 hours, as needed (depends on goals).
  • Try eat protein and carbohydrates 1-2 hours after your activity.

Now if you want to get more specific it’s going to take a little more work. We’re going to break it down by intensity and duration.

Activity is under 2 hours at moderate intensity and/or activity is under 1 at high intensity

  1. Eat a normal meal 1-2 hours before you workout.
  2. Drink 0.5-1 liter (2-4 cups) of water during activity
  3. Drink 0.5-1 liter of water after activity.
  4. Eat a normal meal 1-2 hours after the workout.
  5. Drink 0.25-0.5 liters (1-2 cups) of water at each meal.

If you’re looking for a little bigger recovery boost, or more advanced athletes who want to lose fat and maintain muscle, or are involved in a strength sport like powerlifting: add BCAAs during your workouts. Shoot for 10-15g of BCAAs during each hour of activity.

For more advanced athletes who want to gain weight, have a need for carbs/calories, or for specific sport performance (aka us distance runners): Add protein and carbs during workouts/races. Precision Nutrition suggests “30-45 g carb + 15 g protein in 500-600 mL water every hour during activity.

Activity lasting longer than 2 hours at moderate intensity and/or high intensity lasting longer than an hour (or athlete with more than 1 event in a day)

  1. Eat a normal meal 1-2 hours before you workout.
  2. Drink 0.2-0.5 liters of water (1-2 cups) 30-60 minutes before activity
  3. Consume 30-45 g carb, 15 g protein, plus electrolytes (sodium and potassium) in 600 mL of water every hour during workout.
  4. Consume 30-45 g carb, 15 g protein, plus electrolytes in 600mL of water after workout.
  5. Eat a normal meal 1-2 hours after.
  6. Consume 0.25-.05 liters (1-2 cups) of water at each meal.

Okay so that’s a lot of info and super specific right? This is the science part-like I said it takes some extra work and unless you are a very avid athlete who already has really solid nutrition habits, I wouldn’t stress too much about this. But if you are training for a marathon and working out more than 75 minutes a day 5+ days a week I wouldn’t neglect this. This can make or break your performance and it’s important you don’t overtrain and run your body into the ground. For a lot of amature athletes overtraining (working out too much without the proper nutrition and recovery practices) is the number one cause for poor performance and/or injury.

If you’re training for a marathon and you have a 20 mile run, your running 2+ hours easily. Let’s look at some examples of what this might look like. Referring to step 3…my personal preference would be to eat something during my run to get in the carbohydrates (during my races though, I typically just drink the gatorade they provide so I don’t have to carry anything).

Carbs: A good example would be 1/4-1/3 cup of raisins.

If you have a sensitive stomach, this is a great option. Or you could grab some energy chews or Gu gel to help you out. Make sure to wash it down with something with electrolytes. I love NUUN! It’s my favorite, but there are plenty of other natural fluids with added electrolytes.

Now what about the protein. (This is one I don’t focus on as much, but I think it could be beneficial, especially if you’re doing an activity that requires a lot of force and strength).

Protein: a win-win could be adding a protein powder with your electrolyte supplement where you get the water and the protein in it at the same time. Or if you’re able to eat, grab a natural protein bar made with dates and wash it down with some electrolyte water. Rise protein bars are great options.

Now after is much easier. 

Make a protein shake. 1 scope of protein powder, 1/2 a banana, 1/2-1 cup of almond milk, some ice and blend well.

Now what about before a long run?

My suggestion is something easy to digest about 1 hour before and NOT much. Let it have some protein and carbs. I like a piece of toast with peanut butter and 1/2 a sliced banana. I would avoid dairy at this time or anything that is hard to digest. Veggies would not necessarily be your best friend at this point. But honestly most people can be good with just eating a normal meal about 2 hours before. Just remember if you eat too close to your run you’re like to experience some GI distress.

Now you know! Go workout! 

If you’re looking for more info about your personalized nutrition needs-reach out! I’d love to help you achieve your goals!