We’ve all been there: You’ve just finished a hard workout, and all you want to do is scarf down the first burger and fries you see. Or, the opposite problem: It’s 5 a.m., and you just can’t force yourself to eat anything before your crack-of-dawn run.
Getting those workouts in is important — but what we eat before and after them can have just as much impact.
So what do you reach for instead of that last slice of leftover pizza?
Some people don’t like to work out on a full stomach. But experts say it’s best to consume a combination of carbohydrates and protein that’s light, but still substantial enough to give you lasting energy.
“You definitely want to have some carbohydrates to make sure you have enough energy to get through the workout,” says Sheri Pettit, a personal trainer at The Port KC Fitness & Performance who specializes in plant-based nutrition. “A lot of people starve themselves of carbs because they think carbs are the devil, but you definitely need them.”
Pettit likes to fuel up with a rice cake spread with peanut butter and maybe a piece of fruit, like a banana or apple.
The healthy fat in nuts and seeds helps with satiation. Jess Ismert, a registered dietician at City Gym KC, loves dates slathered with some form of nut butter and sprinkled with chia or flax seeds.
After a workout is often where most people struggle to make healthy choices — “because the body is screaming for nutrients,” Franklin says. We tend to reach for whatever is fastest or will taste the best.
But to lock in the results of the workout you just did, you’re going to want to make sure you eat something with protein, Franklin says.
“Protein can help with strength gains, whether a person is bulking up or cutting down,” he says.
Franklin’s favorite post-workout treat is a protein shake blended with strawberries or pineapple. An hour or two later, he eats a hearty meal of chicken, beans, rice and sweet potato.
Pettit also likes to eat chicken, vegetables and rice after workouts. Sometimes, she reaches for a cup of yogurt to replenish depleted blood sugar levels.
Ismert focuses more on portion sizes and less about the timing of her meals.
“I like to tell people to space their protein intake throughout the day, and kind of sandwich your workout with a little before and a little after,” she says.
After her own workouts, Ismert likes to hit up the buffet bar at Whole Foods. There, she can load up on a variety of greens, proteins, and healthy starches — without falling into the habit of eating the same thing every single day.
Her current favorite buffet item is a falafel patty made with chickpeas, because it provides a balanced blend of carbs and protein.
Balance is key when you’re planning the perfect pre- or post-workout meal. Ismert says that as long as you’re having a palm-sized serving of protein, veggies and a healthy starch, then you’re good to go.
“It could be a potato, or a salad with broccoli and an egg,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be fancy.”