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What to Eat For Working Out

Here's Exactly How to Fuel Up Before, During, and After Your Workout

Have you ever found yourself snacking on something after a workout, and suddenly your gut is totally wrenched? What about that moment during your workout in which you realize, "Whoa, I haven't eaten since this morning!" Or maybe you're just totally dehydrated because you forgot your water bottle.

I've been in all of those situations. Fortunately, we heard from a nutrition expert — Lara Felton, RDN (and the dietitian for the ShopWell app) — who gave us a step-by-step guide on exactly how to fuel up before, during, and after your workout.

The biggest takeaway: have a small meal (or big snack) before and after exercising (with the right balance of macronutrients) and ensure you're getting enough water. Check out her top 10 tips, from two hours before to two hours after your sweat sesh.

Pre-Workout

  1. Carbs and protein. Eat something with complex carbohydrates (like whole grains) with a bit of protein: Lara recommends a chicken (or ham or tuna) sandwich, chicken and pasta, hard-boiled eggs and rice, a whole-grain cereal, or a bowl of oatmeal. She also notes to keep your meal between 300 to 500 calories.
  2. Eat early! Give yourself 90 minutes to two hours before your workout.
  3. Limit your fiber. Lara mentions that high fiber can actually upset a stomach during a workout. A limited amount can be OK, though, "especially if it's veggies."
  4. Limit fat. The same goes for fats. Fatty food = sick tummy. Because fats take a long time to digest, Lara says "step away from fried foods and pizza." So, yeah . . . maybe save the pizza for another time.
  5. Don't go hungry. This one is so important — you definitely need to fuel up! The last thing you want in your workout is that tired, lethargic feeling; it could even result in an injury. Short on time? Grab a snack and try to eat it 30 minutes before you work out.

During Your Workout

  1. Stay hydrated. "I can't emphasize this enough," Lara says. Drink a quarter to a half cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes. If the weather is warm or your workout is hot (and you're sweating a lot), drink more. Is your workout more than an hour? "Switch to a sports drink like Gatorade or Powerade to help replace the electrolytes and carbohydrates," she says.

Post-Workout

  1. Carbs and protein, round two. "An ideal post-workout meal is a blend of carbs and protein." Your guidelines: 50 grams of carbohydrates and 20 grams of protein, within one hour of completing your workout. "This begins the recovery process for your muscles."
  2. Limit fat and fiber (again) for two hours. On the same lines as the pre-workout rules, these will upset your stomach in that two-hour window and slow the absorption of protein and carbohydrates (counteracting your good efforts from the last step). Lara reminds us that "fiber and healthy fats are an important part of a balanced diet," so make sure you're getting those in your other meals throughout the day. Perhaps this is when the pizza can come back into the picture.
  3. Protein up in a pinch. If you're limited on time, Lara recommends a protein bar or shake (again, within that one-hour window) or one of her favorite options: Greek yogurt. "It makes a great healthy snack on its own or used as the base for smoothies."
  4. CHOCOLATE MILK. We put that in all caps out of excitement. YES, chocolate milk is an excellent recovery snack; Lara referred to it as "optimal for post-workout muscle recovery." Yet another reason to work out!
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Ericka McConnell
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