While every body has different needs and every exercise differs in intensity, experts agree that there is a simple formula to fueling your body before and after exercise.
If you are rolling out of bed into your gym clothes, and then out the door for an early morning workout, you’ll want to reach for something quickly digestible (like a banana) or purely liquid (like coffee). “Coffee is a proven ergogenic aid (performance enhancer) and it’s not dehydrating like most people believe,” says Nancy Clark, a sports nutritionist, registered dietitian, and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. According to Supplements and Ergogenic Aids for Athletes, by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, caffeine increases alertness, acts as a central nervous system stimulant, helps with mental sharpness, and decreases perceived exertion. While coffee alone gives you a boost, Clark says it’s important to eat something before a workout. “Five minutes before your work out, take a swig of orange juice or eat a banana otherwise your body will go into breakdown mode. Eating something will give you more energy and you’ll have a better workout.” If you are craving caffeine post-workout, go for a latte. “A latte gives you the combination of carbohydrate and protein” says Sarah Currie, registered dietician and co-owner of Physical Equilibrium. “If you are avoiding dairy, ask for almond or coconut milk.” Here are the foods fitness pros eat to refuel after a workout.
The ultimate comfort breakfast food is an ideal carbohydrate-rich pre-workout choice. It’s full of fiber (which helps you feel full), low in fat, and high in slow-digesting, blood sugar-friendly carbohydrates. Oatmeal’s soluble fiber—beta glucan—has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol. “If you want to burn fat, you need a hard workout, and you need some carbs to get you through the class,” says Currie. While oatmeal alone is ideal fuel for the average gym class, if you are working out for a longer period of time, Clark suggests adding some protein. “Swirl some peanut butter in your oatmeal.” Want to bulk up? Eat these 9 foods to get lean and mean muscles.
Eggs are an excellent recovery food and an ideal choice for a snack after a hard workout. They are high in protein (about six grams per egg) and low in fat (about 75 calories). They also make you feel full and can assist with weight loss. Studies have shown that eating eggs for breakfast may help curb your appetite and reduce the amount of calories you consume for the next 24 hours. “After a workout, have eggs with some form of carb such as eggs and grits, eggs and toast, eggs and potatoes, but not eggs and bacon,” says Clark. (Watch out for these fitness myths that can seriously damage your health.)
Slightly tarter than traditional yogurt, Greek (strained) yogurt contains less sugar, more carbs, and is packed with protein (12 to 17 grams per serving depending on the brand), making it an ideal pre- and post-workout snack. If you plan to eat yogurt before you workout, Clark suggests finding one that you can tolerate well and then add some sugar, in the form of berries or sliced bananas. “Sugar fuels the muscles, so if yogurt has sugar, it will energize you,” says Clark. Plain yogurt is good after you workout because it delivers the protein needed for building muscle. “Any muscle breakdown that occurs after a workout needs to be repaired,” says Currie. “You can replace the carbs you just used to get the glycogen back in your body for the next workout.” When choosing a yogurt, Currie suggests staying away from the sugary fruit-at-the bottom types. If you want to shave the weight off even quicker, try incorporating one of these 13 weight-loss foods into your diet.