Here's what you should be eating before and after your workout

by Fanny Vandenhende, Naturopath N.D.

Why is it important to drink and eat properly when you work out?

A nutrient-dense diet, that is, a high level of nutrients per calorie consumed, is the key to being in the best shape possible during a training. That’s why it’s important to choose foods that will support your body when you exercise and promote recovery too.

The effects of nutrients on your workout:

  • The body needs slow sugars, meaning carbohydrates that are gradually absorbed by the intestine, in order to keep a stable blood glucose level. If blood sugar drops during physical activity, dizziness, nausea, tremors, etc. may result.
  • Carbohydrates and fat are "long distance" fuel.
  • Proteins are essential for recovery, repairing tissue damage, and maintaining good physical health.

What to eat and drink 2 to 3 hours before you work out

Roughly two hours before engaging in physical activity, a snack containing both slow and fast carbohydrates is recommended to maintain stable blood glucose levels during training. This will also prevent the onset of fatigue. And it’s just as important to stay hydrated.

Beets

Nitrate-rich beetroot is often consumed by athletes to enhance their performance. Once converted into nitric oxide in the body, nitrates increase blood flow by dilating the blood vessels. As a result, more oxygen is delivered to the muscles, which improves cardiovascular function and reduces recovery time. Beets are versatile, and can be eaten in fresh salad, juice or a smoothie.

Dried fruit

Dried fruit (mangoes, dates, raisins, apricots, etc.) are a concentrated source of natural sugars, fibers and minerals. They’ll give you the energy boost you need before training.

Hummus + crackers

Chickpeas, like other legumes, contain carbohydrates and proteins, and the slow carbs contained in crackers allow for a gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream. Add hemp seeds to your hummus to increase its protein and omega-3 levels.

Water

Drinking at least two cups of water two hours before exercise helps to stock your water reserves before you train and delays the onset of fatigue.

Beet, raspberry and hemp smoothieRecipe: beet, raspberry and hemp smoothie with dates

During your workout

Water and coconut water

Be sure to drink ¼ liter of water after every 30 minutes of exertion and drink an electrolyte beverage after 60 minutes of intense exercise. Sweating makes you lose water and minerals essential to the body—especially to the heart—which can in turn cause dizziness or muscle cramps. Electrolyte drinks like coconut water are a great source of these important minerals, especially potassium and sodium. 2 Note: it’s best not to drink more than one liter of water per hour in order to avoid over-hydration, which can cause symptoms like disorientation, confusion, nausea and vomiting.

Dates

Since blood sugar is the most important source of energy for moderate to intense prolonged exercise, it’s necessary to provide rapid sugar to the body over the course of a 60 to 90 minute training session. Having a few dates with some fresh or dried fruit is a great replacement for commercial endurance gels.

Immediately after working out

Banana

Glycogen, a sugar molecule stored in the muscles, is rapidly depleted during exercise. If your glycogen stores are not recovered quickly, muscle repair will be slower. Bananas are a good source of rapid sugar and potassium, which plays a major role in muscle contraction.

Blueberries

These little berries are true antioxidant bombs that help us fight free radicals and accelerate post-training recovery time. A research team recently observed that athletes who drank a blueberry smoothie both before and immediately after training recovered faster and had lower inflammation levels than did those who were given a placebo. (3)

Smoothie déjeunerRecipe: blueberry and banana smoothie with
dates, maca, hemp and chia seeds

1 - 3 hours after working out

Now’s the time to eat a full meal of slow carbohydrates and protein to replenish your glycogen stock as well as for optimal recovery and tissue repair (4).

Sweet potato

In addition to providing slow carbohydrates, sweet potatoes have potent antioxidant powers due to their vitamin C and A content. Their vivid orange color is a measure of their high beta-carotene content, which the body transforms into vitamin A. Vitamins A and C are part of the antioxidant family, which reduce muscle damage and accelerate recovery after physical exercise (5). 

Brown rice with lentils

Proteins bring oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. In order to cover the entire range of essential amino acids, it’s necessary to pair vegetable proteins; once in the body, they form full proteins. Combine legumes with grains (like lentils with brown rice), or with nuts. At 18 grams of protein per cup of cooked lentils and 8 grams for the same quantity of brown rice, you’ll have all the protein you need to recover. Other good sources of vegetable protein include tofu, tempeh, and quinoa. Learn more about other great sources of plant-based protein!

Turmeric

With many anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, turmeric helps prevent tissue damage caused by sports and can reduce inflammation in the joints. (6)(7)(8)(9) Add it to your dishes or smoothies. Learn more about the benefits of adding turmeric to your diet!

Dhal with coral lentils and coconut milkRecipe: Dhal with coral lentils and coconut milk on brown rice

Now, you have everything you need to amp up your workouts and cut down on recovery time. Be active and eat well! 


 

Sources
1. Baião Ddos S, Conte-Junior CA, Paschoalin VM, Alvares TS. Beetroot juice increase nitric oxide metabolites in both men and women regardless of body mass. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Feb;67(1):40-6. 
2. Yong JW, Ge L, Ng YF, Tan SN. The chemical composition and biological p
roperties of coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) water. Molecules. 2009 Dec 9;14(12):5144-64. doi: 10.3390/molecules14125144. 3. Yanita McLeay, Matthew J Barnes, Toby Mundel, Suzanne M Hurst, Roger D Hurst, Stephen R Stannard. Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2012 9:19
4. Fielding RA, Parkington J. What are the dietary requirements of physically active individuals? New evidence on the effects of exercise on protein utilization during post-exercise recovery. Nutr Clin Care 2002;5:191–196.
5. McGinley C, Shafat A, Donnelly AE. Does antioxidant vitamin supplementation protect against muscle damage? Sports Med. 2009;39(12):1011-32
6. Altern Med Rev. 2009 Jun;14(2):141-53. Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. Jurenka JS1.
7. Ramadan G, Al-Kahtani MA, El-Sayed WM. Anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties of Curcuma longa (turmeric) versus Zingiber officinale (ginger) rhizomes in rat adjuvant-induced arthritis. Inflammation. 2011 Aug;34(4):291-301.
8. Taty Anna K, Elvy Suhana MR, Das S, Faizah O, Hamzaini AH. Anti-inflammatory effect of Curcuma longa (turmeric) on collagen-induced arthritis: an anatomico-radiological study. Clin Ter. 2011;162(3):201-7.
9. Nicol LM, Rowlands DS, Fazakerly R, Kellett J. Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Eur J Appl Physiol. 2015 Aug;115(8):1769-77.
10. Mike Greenwood, Douglas S. Kalman, Jose Antonio. Nutritional Supplements in Sports and Exercice. 2008 Humana

Fanny Vandenhende, Naturopath N.D.
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Fanny Vandenhende, Naturopath N.D.

Fanny Vandenhende, naturopath ND, is passionate about naturopathy, an alternative medicine that aims to restore health through natural methods. A graduate of ÉESNQ (École d’enseignement supérieur de naturopathie du Québec), she is currently continuing her training and also practicing at the Clinique Mille Mains, found in the Montreal neighbourhood of Villeray.

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