As is the case with everything in nutrition, there is no “perfect” meal, snack, or workout nutrition strategy. That said, there are some general guidelines depending on someone’s goals. Read through this document carefully and as always, test different protocols out on your own body and record how you feel and perform.
This short guide is a cheat sheet to refer to when making choices around food and beverages in relation to your own workouts and goals.
Important to note: Post-workout nutrition is going to be more important to prioritize than whatever you choose to eat before exercising. Your body is in a very different state after working out and many people make the mistake of neglecting proper nutrition tactics here to help with…..
1) Recovery and immune support
2) Allowing your body to adapt and become stronger for the next session.
Nutrient absorption and metabolism runs continuously throughout the day and night, hence skipping a meal here and there or eating differently from what you might have been taught growing up (i.e 3 square meals a day) is actually beneficial to your overall health and body composition.
With maximizing your exercise performance, you need a bit more structure. Now is not the time to keep your body “guessing” or engage in fasting (with one exception as explained later).
There are many ways to eat to achieve your goals both in frequency and timing. But when it comes to maximizing workout recovery, you need to get in the right nutrition, especially after a hard session. We will start with talking about eating after exercise.
What does this mean?
If you have done more than a simple brisk walk, whether it be a run, bike, swim, or strength session, your body is now in a catabolic state. You have broken down muscle tissue and caused circulating inflammation. In the following hours, you will adapt and benefit from your exercise session by allowing adequate recovery along with smart nutrition to fuel your body and support metabolic and hormonal health.
Every post-workout meal should include protein. This means:
- 1 or 2 scoops of high quality protein powder
- 2 to 3 egg white or whole eggs
- 1 to 2 palm-size pieces of chicken, beef, lamb, or fish
- A drink with 1 cup of grass fed organic milk (if well tolerated)
- A meal with tofu, lentils/beans and rice, quinoa, or several handfuls of nuts/2-3 scoops of a quality nut butter. Note that if your dietary preference is vegetarian or vegan, you will need a significantly higher volume of food to support your intake here.
In addition, every post-workout meal should include carbohydrates and at least one serving of vegetables. I recommend choosing from one or more of the following sources:
- Oats, boiled or quick oats
- Boiled white or sweet potatoes
- Popcorn with olive or coconut oil
- Any fruits: bananas, mango, pineapple, guava, etc.
- Coconut water (you can mix with protein powder for a recovery shake)
- White or brown rice, especially if eaten with beans to make a complete protein source
- Broccoli, cooked or stir-fried
- Asparagus, bok choy, kale, or another green veggie of your choosing
- Carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin, etc. Many choices!
To limit or avoid: Any sports drinks with extremely high sugar (i.e. Gatorade) or fried foods (french fries, pork, chicken, etc)
A post workout meal should include some fat as well.
This can come in the form of:
- Naturally-occuring fat from an animal source
- Mixed nuts
- Food prepared in cooking oil (coconut, olive, avocado, palm oils are best)
- Flax seeds/chia seeds
- ½ to 1 whole Avocado
- Full-fat Greek Yogurt or Grass-fed, Organic cow’s milk
- Eggs with the yolk included (very nutrient-dense)
Putting it all together: After exercise
Examples of smart post workout meals:
- 1 Smoothie with protein powder, banana, greens powder (optional), coconut water or coconut milk, water, ice
- Chicken, rice, veggies, som tum (Thai-style meal)
- 1-2 palms worth of a meat source, 1-2 cups of a vegetable, and a side of fruit
- 3 whole eggs, scrambled or cooked in butter or coconut oil with asparagus, onion, and a side of boiled sweet potatoes or rice
Ideally, this meal will have anywhere from 400-1200+ calories, 20-50 grams of protein, 10-40g of fat, and 20-60+ grams of carbohydrates, depending on your body and goals.
One more note on post workout:
If you have had an especially long and taxing workout or have just completed a race, your body is primed to take in more simple sugars.
This is the best time to relax more on your diet and have some dessert, sweets, or another favorite food. But do this along with or after the protein and vegetables!
Before you exercise:
As previously stated, pre-workout nutrition is less important when it comes to performance.
Should you be competing in a race or endurance event, having adequate glycogen stores is important. Therefore being sure to have 1-2 bananas, coconut water, and other sources of carbohydrates before an event is important.
If you workout in the morning:
Eating before a gym session is optional. If your primary goal is fat loss, simply drinking black coffee or tea with water is a smart strategy. Otherwise, a small snack that is primarily protein and carbohydrate-based is a good idea for added energy. Try to allow at least fifteen minutes or more between eating and your workout.
1 Handful of nuts or scoop of nut butter + 1 banana
½ -1 cup of cow’s milk or almond milk with protein powder
½ cup oats with chia or flax seeds, 1 handful nuts
If you workout in the afternoon:
Do not attempt fasting combined with exercise this late into the day. While working out in the morning fasted is a good strategy for some people, continuing into the afternoon and trying to exercise does not work well unless someone is already fat-adapted (i.e. they have been doing a keto/ HFLC diet for several weeks or months)
Have an adequate meal 2-3 hours before your workout, with an optional snack 30 minutes to 1 hour prior to exercise.*
Use the concept of an “Anytime meal” as shown below:
*For an optional snack 30 minutes prior, refer to the suggested options before a morning workout.
Note: This meal graphic works best for people who have a primary goal of weight loss or improved body composition.
If your goal is more performance-based and your workout session will include more cardio (running, biking, swimming) then adjust the veggie intake to allow for more complex carbohydrates:
-Larger portion of fruit
Personal Example: My day
This is an ideal ‘Day in the Life’ eating schedule. Note that I tend to workout in the afternoon, so this example fits best with someone who does the same. Not everyday is like this, but I try to model my eating around the following:
- 2 cups of coffee with milk
- 1 Spice shot or turmeric supplement
- 2 fried eggs with mushrooms, garlic, onions, white rice
- Chicken/fish with rice, stir-fried veggies/som tum
- Coconut water
Pre-workout: 1 banana, 1 square dark chocolate, possible protein shake
Post workout: Smoothie or 1 banana/coconut water (with coconut meat), 2 servings of meat-based dish or rolled oats with protein powder, chocolate, honey
Pasta with 2-3 eggs or fish, broccoli, garlic, and another snack of my choosing.
- Coconut ice cream
- Peanut candy snack
- Mango sticky rice
- Lots of fresh fruits (pineapple in particular that helps break down protein)
- Home-made hot cocoa with stevia to sweeten
- 85% dark chocolate
- Another small Thai dessert or 711 snack
If I workout in the morning:
- Coffee with a little milk
- 1 spice shot
- ½ Smoothie drink or water with 1 scoop protein powder, beet root powder, spirulina
Any Questions or Confusion? Get in touch with me ASAP!