Fitness Foods: What To Eat And Drink Pre and Post Workout

Experts suggest meal plans for low, medium and high intensity workouts.

Joyoti Mahanta

Whether you’re a fitness buff, prefer a regular walk or do basic exercises to keep fit, there’s a common dilemma that plagues one before and after a workout. What should one eat? You need a snack before the activity to help you power through the routine, and you need one after to replenish the calories you burned and to keep you going through the rest of the day.

People often tend to make two common mistakes before and after a workout. It’s crucial to not work out on an empty stomach. Else your body will begin to breakdown your muscles for energy. After the training, just because you are famished, don’t take the easy way out by munching on biscuits or packaged and fast food (stay away from that cheeseburger, please); this will just negate your calorie burn.

Prachi Sanghavi, nutritionist and co-founder of MyDIETist App and celebrity fitness trainer Shalini Bhargava are here to solve your dilemma. Here’s an expert-vetted meal plan that keeps you full and helps you get the most out of your workout. 

Pre-Workout Snacks

Sanghavi says that your diet depends on your fitness goal. Are you looking to lose weight, to bulk up, or are to maintain your physique? The thumb rule is to “befriend snacks that are high on complex carbs like banana and oats, and protein like eggs and whey protein supplements to keep the motor running. The body absorbs carbs slowly, but they give us energy for a long time,” says Sanghavi. 

Bhargava says, “The food you eat will directly affect the way your body performs during a workout. An under-performing body won’t burn as many calories or build as much muscle, compared to a perfectly fuelled body.”

The timing is critical, say the experts. “Even the perfect workout snack can leave you flat if you eat it too early or weigh you down if you eat it too late,” explains Bhargava. If it’s a light snack, eat it about 20-30 minutes before your workout. In the case of a full meal, make sure you have it at least 90 minutes before hitting the fitness road, followed by a glass of whey protein in water. 

Meal plan for low-intensity workouts

Blog Detail Images

If you’re a beginner, a glass of milk and an apple should give you enough energy for your workout. To stay energised, you can have a bowl of oats with milk for carbs and calcium. This snack won’t accumulate as fat either. Oats are full of fibre and gradually release carbohydrates into your bloodstream. This steady stream of nutrition will keep your energy levels consistent during the workout. Adding fruit to your bowl of oatmeal increases the fluid content of your pre-workout snack, keeping you hydrated.

Oats also contain B vitamins which help convert carbohydrates into energy. If you prefer savoury, you could make an oatmeal upma. Mix it with vegetables like carrots, onions, beans and pepper, topped with a dash of lime. Vitamin C-rich red peppers and lemon help prevent some of the exercise-induced oxidative stress to your muscles. 

Meal plan for medium-intensity workouts

Blog Detail Images

Whip up a fluffy omelette with three egg whites and one yolk for optimum nutrition. Garnish with veggies for an extra boost of nutrition or some avocado for fibre and good fats. Fruit and yoghurt make the ideal combination for a pre-workout meal because fruits are high in carbohydrates, and yoghurt is packed with high-quality protein.

Bananas are a good source of digestible carbohydrates and potassium, which aids in maintaining nerve and muscle function. Our body doesn’t store potassium for too long, so a banana before a workout helps keep nutrient levels high. Accompany the banana with a serving of yoghurt or a scoop of whey protein.

Meal plan for high-intensity workouts

Blog Detail Images

“Bananas, potatoes, yoghurt, fruits, juices and dextrose are ideal because they don’t take too long to digest. These fast-acting carbs increase your glycemic index, opening a window for the subsequent protein to be absorbed quicker. Besides, these carbs provide your muscles with the energy they need for your workout,” advises Sanghavi.

Two multigrain rotis with sautéed paneer or a brown or whole-wheat bread sandwich with a protein of your choice - paneer, tofu, chicken, turkey - will keep you kicking. If you prefer an omelette, stick to the ratio of either 5:1 or 7:2 for white and yolk. 

Expert tip

"The amount of carbs and protein you should eat depends on how much time will elapse before your workout. Irrespective of the volume of food, 5 grams of carbs will provide 1 gram of essential amino acids, and about 1.6 grams of protein will provide 1 gram of essential amino acids. Consuming these nutrients before your workout allows your body to take advantage of workout-induced increased blood flow to establish the amino acids in your muscles while boosting blood sugar for steady energy."
- Shalini Bhargava

Here’s what you should eat after a workout

After you sweat it out, you need to re-fuel with a nutrition-rich meal, which will help begin the recovery process of muscle wear-and-tear, support muscle growth and support hormones and metabolism. Sanghavi explains that during a workout, there’s a breakdown of muscles. So you need to snack on food that has a high glycemic index.

Glycogen is stored primarily in your muscles and is the primary source of fuel. It helps to repair your muscles right away as the body absorbs it very fast. Also, remember to snack on a banana immediately after your workout. “It’s important to have a full snack within 5 to 30 minutes of your workout,” adds Bhargava. 

After a low-intensity workout

Blog Detail Images

A tuna sandwich contributes to lean protein. Accompany it with a salad tossed in olive oil and fresh lemon juice. This light meal is an excellent response to post-workout recovery. You can munch on a salad of fresh fruit too. Sprouts with two bowls of yoghurt are another healthy post-workout snack. You could also have a glass of buttermilk and apples dipped in peanut or almond butter to re-energise yourself. 

After a medium-intensity workout

Blog Detail Images

A one-bowl meal after such a workout proves to be very satisfying. Go for instant oats topped with seasonal veggies or barley/quinoa cooked with bell peppers, garlic, cucumber, tofu, tomatoes and parsley. Multigrain rotis with fresh, seasonal vegetables or a tofu sandwich are good recovery options too.

After a high-intensity workout

Blog Detail Images

Have high-protein sources like eggs, fish, chicken, paneer and soya bean after a high-intensity workout. For maximum health benefits, grill or steam your food. Chicken grilled with vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes, and potatoes are protein-rich. Steamed salmon fish with a salad is the right choice too. Salmon has the bonus of bioactive peptides that help reduce inflammation, regulate your insulin levels and support your joints.

Photo: Shutterstock

RELATED STORIES

To feed your hunger for more