Pre- and Post-Exercise Nutrition

April 30, 2015

Lee Hyrkas, a registered dietitian and performance nutrition specialist at Bellin Health, writes about bookending workouts with nutritious choices:

Do you ever feel like you lose energy early in your workout, or do you struggle to recover from exercise? These are two common concerns I hear from clients.

Nutrition plays a vital role in providing fuel for exercise and enhancing our recovery time. Today I will focus on tips that can help improve your pre and post-exercise nutrition routine. I will also provide a few simple pre- and post-exercise meals to help get you on the right track.

What should I eat pre-exercise?

The goal is to provide your body with quality fuel for the upcoming workout. Think of your body as a high-performance sports car. We need to put enough high-quality fuel in to ensure that our sports car is able to run at an optimal level. The main focus pre-exercise is consuming enough carbohydrates, along with a small amount of protein.

For endurance events, carbohydrates are one of the best sources of fuel. The quantity you want to consume depends on the amount of time you have before the workout or event. Ideally, you’ll want to aim for 200-300 grams of carbohydrates two to four hours prior to exercise. The 200-300 grams of carbohydrate can be obtained by consuming multiple mini meals within the two to four hour time frame. If you don’t have two to four hours, consume at least 30-60 grams of carbohydrate roughly 30 minutes to an hour before exercise. Quality carbohydrates include fruit, rice, pasta, bagels, cereal, crackers, breads and granola bars.

Protein should also be included in your pre-exercise meal. Consuming a meal with 10-20 grams of protein can help kick start the recovery process during exercise. Focus on consuming lean protein such as skinless chicken, trimmed meats, egg whites and low-fat dairy products. Avoid greasy burgers and other high-fat meats (brats, bacon, sausage, deep-fried meat, etc.). The extra fat in these foods tends to slow down digestion, which could lead to nausea or stomach cramps during exercise. No one wants to ruin his or her performance by choosing the wrong type of fuel.

How can I recover faster?

I’m always stressing the importance of consuming a meal within 30-60 minutes of a workout. Studies continue to reveal the beneficial effects of a quality post-exercise meal. Runners should aim for a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein after exercise. For example, if you consume 15 grams of protein, you want to include at least 45-60 grams of carbohydrates for optimal recovery. A perfect recovery meal should consist of roughly 15-25 grams of lean protein (chicken, fish, turkey, beef, milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, egg whites, beans, etc.) and approximately 45-100 grams of quality carbohydrates (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, milk, etc.).

Fuel your workout right or enhance your recovery by trying one of the simple meals listed below.

Pre-Exercise Meal Ideas:

Meal 1
*2 eggs
*1 cup cooked oatmeal
*1 large apple
(~60 g carbs, 17 g protein)  

Meal 2

*3 oz chicken breast
*2 cups pasta
*1/2 cup red pasta sauce
*1 cup mixed vegetables 
(~125 g carbs, 40 g protein) M

Meal 3
*1 Granola bar
*1 container (5.3 oz) Greek yogurt
*1 Banana
(~80 g carbs, 20 g protein)
Post-Exercise Meal Ideas:

Meal 1
*16 oz low-fat chocolate milk
*1 medium orange 
(~60 g carbs, 16 g protein)

Meal 2 (Smoothie)
*1 cup low-fat milk or soy milk 
*1/2 scoop vanilla whey protein
*1 cup frozen strawberries 
*1 medium banana 
*1/2 cup oatmeal, dry (uncooked)
*4 oz water
*Blend until desired consistency.
(~90 g carbs, 26 g protein)

Meal 3
*2-3 oz sliced turkey or chicken
*2 slices whole grain bread
*1 large pear
*8 oz low-fat milk
(~85 g carbs, 27 g protein)

Lee Hyrkas is a registered dietitian and performance nutrition specialist at Bellin Health. Lee’s goal is to assist every athlete and active individual in maximizing his or her athletic potential and performance.  For additional information, contact [email protected].

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