As a running and triathlon coach, this is indeed a topic I cover almost daily. First, its getting people to simply eat a pre workout meal. Then its to get them to eat the right one. Now, with that let me say this. I'm not a nutritionist. And even if I was, the first thing I would say is... everyone is different! But simple guidelines when it comes to pre and post workouts do hold true. As a coach its my goal to get you to recognize the need to eat, try the list of simple and true approaches touted by those at all levels in the sports arena and beyond, then continue to really hone in on what works for YOU.
When I started running at the age of 32, I was as many will claim. Not a morning eater. I didn't think of breakfast until I had commuted to work, scored the muffin at the deli counter on route to the elevator, and had at least three tasks checked off my to do list. Aka, it was almost lunch time before that muffin was even opened. But when I started running, I learned early on and was guided by those I ran with that breakfast was indeed key. And so the process began.
I started with a slice of bread. No. not even toasted. Added some jelly for flavor. And that was that. I avoided my daily dose of java because surely that wasn't good for running. Had a glass of gatorade and out I went. The first few runs I did feel a bit digestively challenged. But wow did my legs feel better. So I kept at it and it wasn't long before my stomach not only got used to that bread -- but demanded it. And as my running grew. So did my breakfast.
I soon graduated that slice of bread and jelly to a tried and true (and proven Olympic athlete staple) peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Oh the joy. At a race I also discovered that coffee -- for those that drink it -- is too a good bit of joy to a morning routine. If taken early enough, it cleans the system and allows you to leave the worry of needed bathroom breaks behind. Well, unless nerves have their way with you but that's for another segment. But to the root of the issue, the question always comes down to this:
What to eat.
When to eat it.
What to eat:
What your workout is will dictate the amount you eat but by general rule, you should plan to eat 150 to 250 calories before a 30 to 60 min workout. Those calories should mainly be comprised of carbs, with a side dose of protein and a touch of healthy sugar on top. What are the percentages? From my perspective? If you are keeping your options simple - you don't need to need such detail. Keep it simple and keep it real.
Fan favorites of the pre workout meals (morning):
half a bagel with peanut butter
waffle with peanut butter
oatmeal with blueberries
peanut butter and jelly sandwich
english muffin with honey and bananas
clif bar / lara bar (watch that its not a full on protein bar -- need those carbs!)
Scooby Snacks for that post work workout:
No, lunch isn't going to hold through until that 6:30 spin class! In the time as noted below, trust instead on these late afternoon snacks to really make those evening workouts worthwhile:
okay, yes again with the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich
half a turkey sandwich with lettuce, slice of cheese
the other half of the bagel with peanut butter
clif bar / lara bar
pita wrap with chicken / lettuce / avocado
Things to avoid in those pre-workout meals:
heavy dose of dairy (no - milkshakes aren't going to settle well)
beans. enough said.
*Nuts are a great midday protein snack -- they are not enough to get you through a workout.
When to eat:
Again, this is something to be tested and adjusted 20 minutes one direction or the other -- but I don't allow the excuse "I can't eat before I run". Its just not true. You have to teach your body to eat because you don't do it otherwise -- not because it doesn't want to. It just never knew to ask! And this is key. You need to practice eating in the am -- everyday! Not just on days you workout. Its how you will really adjust to its benefit - and the reward it will offer in your general health and well being!
Back to the topic. When to eat. Ideally? 45 minutes to 1:30 before a workout to start. You want calories in your system to help get you revved for the workout as well as through to its entirety and still give your system time to process it before you put it to work.
For the morning -- yes. set the alarm clock a bit earlier to accomplish this. It will be worth it.
For the afternoon -- stock your desk with needed scooby snacks and set your phone to beep at 4:30pm to remind you to eat as we often get caught up in our work and forget.
What to eat after a workout.
You want me to say the kitchen sink -- you've earned it. Right? No, but I will tout as you've heard others say. low fat (no - not fat free) chocolate milk is key!! You need to eat a solid dose of protein (keep it to 150 to 250 calories depending on the intensity of the workout) WITHIN 30 MINUTES after a workout to maximize that nutrition's aid to your body's recovery and in process to the metabolism that is in high gear still from the workout.
If you try to eat too much, it often causes distress. Better to just grab that 8 to 10 oz glass of low fat chocolate milk - or soy almond milk as a suggested substitute -- to get in the perfect blend of protein, carbs and fat your body needs to get busy recovering so it can get busy building for the next workout.
The real key with this is that a simple intake as this -- or a recovery drink as offered by many brands such as Odwalla, Gatorade, Hammer, and more - gives your system the fuel it needs to get home and prepare a truly healthy dinner or lunch a bit later. Waiting only leads to exaggerated hunger and the empty bag of McDonalds in your car. This is not your meal. Its the appropriate calories to aid recovery and set you up for your next healthy meal!
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