Exercise takes commitment, determination, and sacrifice. Case in point: you can always find a more appealing alternative to doing squats. You know, like continuing to not do squats. And basically anything seems preferable to crying through a spinning class when you've had a long day at work.
Yet you continue to make the hard choice, prioritizing fitness over whatever else it is you could be doing, to invest in yourself and your health. All the more reason why you should be getting the most out of your sweat sessions—not unknowingly sabotaging one smart decision with a not-so-smart one. We’re talking about eating the wrong foods before and after!
Food can either make or break a work-out, giving you the energy needed to go further and reach your goals, or taxing your body and slowing down your system. Do you know which foods you should be eating and avoiding pre- and post-exercise for best results?
We spoke to Katie Mack, personal trainer at Peak Performance in NYC, for the scoop on exactly what to eat and skip to reach your own peak performance.
So don't defeat the purpose of your efforts. Next time you forgo a Netflix marathon to hit the gym, fuel up the right way—and make your smart choice worth it.
Click through to discover the best foods for fueling up, and other nutrition tips from a top personal trainer.
Deciding what to eat before exercising depends on how much time you have, Mack says. “If you have a one-hour window pre-workout, a low-fat meal will do the trick. A lean protein source such as chicken, fish, or Greek yogurt, along with a good carbohydrate source, such as sweet potato, rice, or beans can be a great meal option.” She suggests adding coconut oil for the MCT's (medium chain triglycerides). “They will provide a bit of [healthy] fat for quick energy.”
Again, timing plays a role. “While the timing of your meal and the amount and type of fat that you eat is what matters, foods on the higher fat side may be best avoided before a workout. Fat is the slowest digesting of the macronutrients (which include fats, proteins, and carbs), and slowing down digestion/absorption of nutrients before training may not be the best idea,” she explains.
“Depending on your goals and if you have not eaten for a while (maybe you trained, fasted, or have not eaten in 5-6 hours), a post-workout meal could be a mixed of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats,” Mack says.
But, similar to before, keeping it lighter on the fat content will be helpful. “Fat = slower digestion. If you're looking for something easy and you did eat pretty recently pre-workout, a good quick post-workout meal is similar to a good pre-workout meal – fast-acting protein powder such as whey and a fruit-mixed smoothie,” she suggests.
Let’s say you are running to a kickboxing class that starts at 6:00 p.m. You completely ran out of time to eat, but don’t think you can make it through the class without something. It’s 5:55…what do you do?
“Consume Branched Cain Amino Acids, also known as BCAA’s. They are the building blocks of proteins, “ Mack says. “They can come in pill form, but the more popular powder form, which can be mixed with water or juice, would be more easily digested and absorbed by the body. In desperate times when fuel is needed very close to a workout, BCAA's are a great option because they will minimize the amount of protein that your body breaks down for fuel, leaving more muscle behind for your benefit!”
Try a BCAA powder for mixing into water, which you can sip before a workout and throughout, like this version that comes in four flavors.
We’ve heard that coffee before a workout is a good thing, and that chocolate milk after a workout is a good thing? Is that true?
“Coffee pre-workout is great, depending on your caffeine tolerance,” Mack says. “The caffeine in your coffee will help to stimulate your nervous system to enhance performance.” Yet another reason to love a cup of joe! Check out seven other beauty benefits of coffee, here.
Chocolate milk, on the other hand? Not so much. “It may not be the best option when compared to a whey protein and fruit smoothie,” Mack says. “Chocolate milk has casein in it, which is a slower digesting protein that some people tend to be intolerable of. If you have the option and time, a healthy meal including complex carbs (like sweet potatoes, rice, beans, or whole grains) and a lean protein source would be ideal.”
Any other nutrition tips around exercising/getting fit?
“While there are general recommendations from nutrition research on what to eat when keeping fit and what to eat around your workout window, the most important thing to remember is that you are unique,” Mack says. “Experimenting with food and calorie amounts, types of foods, and meal combinations and timing will take time and patience, but will ensure results long-term.”
“In addition, good supplement recommendations for general health include a high-quality fish oil, multivitamin, vitamin D, probiotic, and greens (if you're not getting your fruits and veggies in). In conjunction with a diet that includes high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fruits and veggies, supplements can add icing to the cake.”
Feeling motivated? Check out our two-week summer slimdown plan!