Exercise is not only beautifying, it is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, protecting your heart and lungs, helping you maintain blood sugar levels and providing strength, endurance, and flexibility. Some studies even show that regular intense exercise helps increase bone density, an essential factor in preventing osteoporosis. In order to sustain quality workouts, however, you must provide your body with the fuel it needs for energy and repair, before, during and after you exercise. Because of this, you need to eat foods from high quality nutrition sources both pre and post-workout.
The foods we eat contain three macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Each of these macronutrients supplies the body with energy. Carbohydrates are our body’s most direct source of energy. This is why you hear of athletes carbohydrate loading before an event – because to do so provides the body with a ready supply of energy for use during intense exercise.
When we eat carbohydrates, our bodies store them in the muscles as glycogen, which it then uses for energy throughout the day. As we exercise, we begin to deplete glycogen from carbohydrates – it typically lasts for about an hour and a half. According to Nutrition for the Athlete, a fact sheet from Colorado State University, about 50 percent of our body’s energy comes from carbohydrates when we exercise.
Fat also supplies fuel to the body, albeit more slowly than carbohydrates. During the first 90 minutes or so of exercise, fat metabolism accounts for about half of the body’s energy requirements, and that jumps up by about 25 percent after we’ve depleted carbs during long-term exercise lasting more than 20 minutes. Therefore, we do need to include some fats in the foods we eat, especially if we regularly engage in intense, long exercise. You don’t need a lot of fat though- a few Tbs. of chia seeds, a small avocado or some nuts are generally enough fat.
When you exercise, your muscle tissue sustains minute bits of damage – micro-tears. Protein in the diet helps your body to repair these tears after exercise, building stronger muscles in the process. Protein may also be metabolized for energy, although it must first be converted into body fat before your body can use it as fuel.
Exercise food, then, needs to contain carbohydrates, some fat, and some plant protein. If you eat it before exercise, it also needs to be light enough that it won’t weigh you down or make you feel sluggish. Let’s take a look at 10 foods that can really help you both before and after your workout.
1. Glowing Green Smoothie
The GGS is the perfect workout food. It’s filled with complex carbohydrates, amino acids (the building blocks of protein), vitamins, and minerals, but it moves easily through your system and digests thoroughly so it won’t weigh you down. Try a GGS before your workout and see how terrific you feel! If you work out in the morning I definitely would make the GGS your pre workout food, if you do eat something before. If I practice yoga first thing in the morning, it is the first thing I have afterwards.
2. Chia seeds
Another food I love, chia seeds, are loaded with omega-3 fats for sustained energy, protein, and antioxidants. Ancient Aztec and Incan warriors ate chia for strength and stamina during battle. Having chia a few hours before a long, intense workout can help provide fat for fuel after the carbs burn off. Eating them after a workout can provide tissue repairing protein. You can even have them during sustained activity such as hiking or bicycling to really amp up your energy levels.
3. Power Protein Smoothie
After a workout, you’ll want to replenish your supply of plant-based amino acids so your body can repair tissue. The Power Protein Smoothie is a delicious, healthful way to do so, because it’s loaded with chia, acai, and other raw protein sources. It can also help stabilize your blood sugar post-workout. I don’t recommend whey (which is from dairy) or soy protein powders, which are heavily processed, devoid of enzymes and difficult to digest. Over time people that use such products tend to look older and older.
4. Coconut Water
Drinking coconut water is a great way to replenish electrolytes lost through sweating during a workout. This is especially important if you are exercising in a hot environment. I recommend drinking coconut water during sustained workouts, as well as after exercising. Look for natural, unsweetened brands in the bottled beverage section of your grocery store.
If you workout later in the day, eating some quinoa at lunch can provide you with carbs and protein for energy and muscle repair. It’s a fantastic energy food. Eat this superfood a few hours before you workout.
If you will be participating in a sustained workout, eating an avocado a few hours beforehand can provide valuable healthy fat for that energetic boost when carbohydrate depletion occurs.
7. Nuts and seeds
Eating nuts and seeds at dinner can give you energy for evening workouts because they cover all of your macronutrient bases, containing carbs, protein, and fat. Eating a few nuts and seeds during sustained exercise can also provide a boost of energy to keep you going during endurance activities.
Banana is one of the most perfect pre and post workout foods as they are full of complex carbs, minerals such as potassium and fiber. Our close genetic relatives, chimps, eat bananas in bunches and thrive. Once you’ve stabilized a Candida condition, you too can enjoy bananas and other sweet fruits. I personally eat 3+ bananas a day when I’m active, especially in the summer. I find them to be such perfect human foods, and I never gain weight from them as my body is balanced to handle fruit sugars. I actually just ate my third one today while writing this blog…but the day is not over yet!
Eating about ½ cup of this hearty grain an hour or two before exercise will provide you with carbohydrate energy necessary for quick, intense workout sessions.
10. Veggies and hummus
A great post-workout snack, veggies and hummus will help you replenish glycogen stores while providing a small amount of plant protein for muscle repair and fat for sustained energy. Try my Chickpea-Less Hummus, which substitutes zucchini for chickpeas but has all the protein and calcium included from the tahini (sesame seeds).