One question I get again and again, is, “What should I eat before and after a workout?” I always begin my response by explaining that different types of exercise stress your body in different ways. This means your nutritional requirements will vary depending upon the type of exercise you’re doing.

For example, an extended bike ride mainly burns fat for sustained energy. A tough weight training session requires complex carbs to be utilized for immediate energy.

First, no matter what type of exercise you have in mind, eat your last solid food meal 2 – 4 hours before the workout. If you opt for a smoothie instead, you might want to finish it off, say 90 minutes before your planned activity. Ideally, you want to eat something that’s going to stay with you and work for you all throughout your exercise session. Whole grain pastas and veggies are great carbs and grilled chicken breasts or broiled fish are perfect protein sources. Stay away from a starchy, sugary meal that’s going to cause your blood sugar to spike and then drop leaving you a tired heap on the gym floor!

Second, if you’re planning to exercise for more than 90 minutes, many sports nutritionists recommend supplementing with branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s), a mixture of essential amino acids that help protect and build muscle fibers during demanding, strenuous sessions. BCAA’s also boost stamina and help maintain even blood-sugar levels during prolonged athletic activity. You can mix up a powered BCAA supplement in juice or water and sip it before, during and after your workout for maximum absorption.

Third, once you’ve completed your run, swim, or weight training session, it’s best to wait 20 minutes to a half hour before your post- workout meal. Stretch, cool down, drink water and give your body a chance to settle down; give it time to go through some important hormonal adjustments that take place following exercise. Then allow it the nutrition it craves. Here are a few pre- and post- workout meal ideas:

A 90- minute bike ride or run:

  • Pre-workout: High protein smoothie – mix 2 scoops of vanilla whey protein, 10 ounces of water or skim milk, 1 cup of mixed berries (frozen or fresh), and 2-3 tablespoons of almond or peanut butter.
  • Post-workout: 2 hard-boiled eggs and a half of an English muffin with fruit spread or almond butter.

A one- hour weight training session (2 or 3 muscle groups,  three to four sets of 8-12 reps)

  • Pre-workout: One large grilled chicken breast (trim the fat) with a cup of broccoli, chopped kale, or bell peppers, or a high protein smoothie as described above.
  • Post-workout: One cup of plain yogurt or Greek yogurt with one cup of mixed berries and 2 tablespoons of granola

Remember, your nutritional plan is key to the success of your workout plan.

Tom Bonanti is a certified trainer and licensed massage therapist. Contact trainertomb@aol.com with questions about your fitness.