Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I hope everyone had an awesome mini-vacation, I know I did. Lots of cheesecake was put in front of me that I didn't turn down, so there's that.
In today’s post we’re chatting about a question I get A LOT:
What do I eat before and after I train?
This is a great one, and I’m happy to dive into it. There is obviously a lot of biased and straight up confusing information out there with regard to this stuff. I get that. For most of you out there, it may not be as complicated as it seems. Now, I certainly cannot speak for everybody out there because everybody has different foods they like, schedules, or exercise programs. Enough jibber jabber though, check it out below:
Keep it Simple
In all honesty, what trips people up the most is what I said above. Many people feel it necessary to “dial in their macros” and “spike insulin” and “increase metabolic output.” But, to the everyday person, all of this stuff doesn’t necessarily mean as much. I find that many people worry too much about the numbers- so much so that they spend all of their time obsessing over it. This doesn’t create a healthy relationship with food- nor does it create the ability to be flexible and flow with the signals of the body.
Keep in mind, this would scale accordingly to meet the needs of the athlete. Elite athletes are probably going to want to pay a bit more attention to their nutrition, given the demand being placed on the body. On the flip side, normal, everyday exercisers like you and me might not need as much of an attention to detail. This is not a license to eat a bunch of junk, though.
High Quality Foods
Moving on, when assessing the diet as a whole, it’s best to place an emphasis on stuff that comes from nature and limited in ingredients. Thinking about it like this takes a lot of the guesswork out of planning meals. Fruits, veggies, beneficial starches, solid protein sources, and healthy fat sources.
If you have done a solid job at eating throughout the day and aren’t hungry before you exercise… don’t worry about eating immediately before or after exercising. Unless you are exercising intensely for more than an hour - you are probably covered. Eating a good meal 1-2 hours prior and 1-2 hours after is enough to sustain you. Seriously.
Who are YOU?
Now, you may not feel like you fall in the above “umbrella” for one or two reasons.
“I only ate lunch and I’m always hungry by the time I get to my workout.”
“I get low blood sugar easily.” (Get that checked by a physician)
“I’m super tired after work and I need a boost.”
“I am training for a marathon and need extra calories.”
That’s all gravy, and I get it. Before you decide that you should have a snack before and after, just evaluate whether it’s helpful for you and your goals. Given all of the access to information, supplement ads, and social pressures to be “fit,” there is a mentality that “everybody should do X, Y, and Z.” That may not be the case.
The approach is simple:
If something makes you feel better, kick your workout in it’s flippin’ face, or enhances your recovery, go for it. Place the emphasis on yourself, not what everyone else is doing. If you can figure out “why,” then you’re golden.
The Good Stuff
When talking about pre- and post-exercise meals, it’s important to know that the body generally wants two things in and around exercise. Glucose, aka sugar, and protein for repairing tissue (and all the the micronutrients to make it happen). The idea here is that you want to be careful about things like too much protein, fat, and fiber before exercise.
Limit it to mostly simple carbohydrate foods, and maybe a tiny source of protein. A small snack will suffice, try not to overeat, as this can cause cramping and that just isn’t fun for anybody. Afterward though, adding a bit more protein is helpful for recovery. Below I’ve listed some of my favorite before and after exercise snacks (some of them healthier than others):
Any fruit with some raw nuts
Homemade Protein Bar (see below)
Hard Cheese and Fruit
Honey Stinger Waffles
Pretzels and Hummus
OR: I’ve eaten 1-2 hours prior
Homemade Yogurt Parfait
A piece of Fruit, Protein Powder in Water
Chocolate Milk after a long endurance event
Protein Super Shake with Greens and Fruit
Homemade Protein Bar (see below)
Pancakes (Just kidding, but not really. Sidebar: Thanks a lot Meg, Bill, and Katie - Post-Marathon Tradition)
OR: I just eat a meal with some protein, veggies, and starch.
No Bake Protein Bars
2 cups Unsweetened Applesauce
2 scoops protein powder
2 Cups of Whole Rolled Oats
2-3 servings of peanut/almond butter
Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
Nuts: Walnuts, Cashews, Almonds, Hemp Seeds, Milled Flax seed
Dried Fruit: Raisins, Apricots, Cranberries, Crushed Banana Chips
Instructions: Mix base ingredients into a bowl and stir until you can’t see the protein powder and it has a thick consistency. Then, add in whatever else you want - my favorite is Coconut Flakes and dark chocolate pieces. Flatten everything out into a square cookie pan and then place in freezer until it hardens up. Then, cut into 2 x 2 squares and individually wrap them. Store in freezer and let sit for a little while before you eat it. Definitely high calorie but filling and packed with nutrients.
Hopefully this helps you understand that a lot of the time, nutrition can be much more simple than it seems. Focus on eating high quality food and making well thought out decisions. Above all else, enjoy the process and have fun!
Lastly, I want to thank you for reading my blog. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it and learned a little bit along the way. I’ve definitely loved creating more value for you and helping you become healthier. Thanks again for a great year!
Sidenote: I have some cool things coming down the pipeline for next year. If you haven’t signed up for the Email list, I'd love to bring you along on the journey and help you start the year off right. I’ll make sure you stay in the loop about new projects I’m working on.
Double Bonus Sidenote: Because it's that time of the year, I wanted to mention something about those pesky New Years Resolutions. My good friend Sarah Poulin, a licensed Acupuncturist just wrote a pretty awesome blog article about starting nice and easy when the new year rolls around, setting smart goals, and making yourself accountable. You can find it, HERE. Check it out!