What you eat before, during, and after your workout is just as important as the workout itself. What’s more, what you eat during one workout can impact your performance during future workouts as well.
Your pre-workout nutrition includes, but is not limited to, the 15-minutes to 3-hours before your workout. The “is not limited to” ties back to the concept I introduced in the first paragraph—what you ate throughout previous workouts can significantly impact your current workout. And of course your hydration over the last 72-hours can also play a part in your upcoming workout. However, for our purposes, we’ll simplify “pre-workout” as that 15-minute to 3-hour timeframe.
When the pre-workout meal is your first meal of the day, this is a time where glycogen stores in the body are low. It’s important to replenish those stores while fueling your body for the upcoming effort, so this meal should include high-quality carbohydrates. However, try to avoid high-fiber foods here as they can cause GI issues during your workout. Including some healthy fats and protein during this meal can also help with blood sugar stabilization. A few good options include:
- 1/2 bagel with peanut butter and a banana
- 1 cup oatmeal with raisins and a 1/2 cup strawberries
- 1 pita wrap with peanut butter, sliced bananas, and honey
Depending on the duration and intensity of the workout, you can increase or decrease the size of this pre-workout meal. However, keep in mind that the larger the meal, the more time you will need before starting your workout.
Fueling During Exercise
Hydration is the front runner during your workout. Staying hydrated keeps all systems running properly and delays muscle fatigue. A good rule of thumb is 16-24oz of water and/or sports drink per hour. Of course you may need more or less depending on the climate.
For workouts that are less than 30 minutes, water is typically all you will need. For workouts lasting more than 30 minutes, you should consider adding sports nutrition products like energy gels, chews, bars, sports drinks, and whole food options. Every person is unique, and what works for one may not work for the other. Discover what works for you by making small changes during your workouts, then see if you notice a change in how you feel. For workouts exceeding two hours, I suggest creating a simple plan that is repeatable hour after hour. For example, on a 4-hour bike ride you may consider:
- 0:10 2-4oz. sports drink (mouthful) ~ 20-40cal
- 0:15 (1) GU gel ~ 100cal
- 0:20 2-4oz. water
- 0:30 2-4oz. sports drink ~20-40cal
- 0:40 2-4oz. water
- 0:45 (1) Honey Stinger Waffle ~ 160cal
- 0:50 2-4oz. sports drink ~20-40cal
- 1:00 2-4oz. water
The plan above would provide 320-400cal/hour. For some athletes this is too much or too little. Factors such as intensity, climate, fitness level, age, weight, and more will effect each individual athlete’s needs. This is why practicing these plans during training is important. The plan above was easy to follow—alternate water and sports drink every 10 minutes, take a gel at the 15 minute mark, and take food on the 45 minute mark.
Again, this plan is easily repeated, especially during long distance events.
Post Workout Meal
The minutes and hours after a workout will greatly determine how much you will actually gain from the workout you just did. Refueling is critical after a workout, particularly within the first 30 minutes. Again, you may need more or less depending on the duration and intensity of the workout. During this meal it is important to provide the body with carbohydrates and protein to repair and rebuild muscle, accelerating the recovery process. There are many “post-workout” pre-mixed drink products that you can try for those times where you don’t have the time to eat a full meal. Accelerade, Infinit, Hammer, Powerbar, Endurox, and many more companies have products designed for post-workout fueling. For longer or more intense workouts, a large meal may be necessary. Protein shakes, sandwiches, and fruits are all popular post-workout meals.
Getting the perfect mix for you is going to take time. Once you have started including pre-, during-, and post-workout meals, try changing only one thing at a time to help you narrow down what works and what doesn’t. Once you finally have your ideal mix, this becomes your race day nutrition. And remember, don’t change it on race day. Do what works for you.
|Tommy Allore is the TEAM Tri Bike Run Head Coach in Juno Beach, FL. A USA Triathlon L1 Certified Coach, Tommy is a certified personal trainer (CPT) by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and is a 6-time triathlon champion, Ironman Finisher and USAT All-American. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org|