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What to Eat Before and After A Workout

As a Registered Dietitian, I am often questioned what to eat before and after a workout. This post outlines everything you need to know about properly fueling your body for athletic performance, and how to replenish after you’ve put in the work.

Hiking for Exericse

Nutrition is one piece of the healthy lifestyle puzzle, but so is exercise. No matter what activity you choose to do, it’s important to just move your body in any way that makes you feel good.

The current physical activity guidelines for healthy adults are 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity (1). At the very least, we should be moving our butts for 30 minutes, five days per week for health benefits!

Proper nutrition is essential to help our bodies reach peak performance during exercise and to replenish afterwards. I recommend choosing real, whole foods over supplements whenever possible, because they are more filling, more satisfying, and taste better! Eating properly before and after a workout will make your workouts more effective, help prevent fatigue and injury, and allow you to continue pushing yourself to reach new fitness goals.

What to Eat Before a Workout

There are a few things to consider regarding pre-workout nutrition. First, we need to think about the macronutrient composition of our meal. It’s also important to consider the timing of our pre-workout meal or snack to prevent cramping or bloating during exercise.

Macronutrients: Carbohydrates are Key

Our bodies do not produce energy on their own. We must obtain all our energy from the food we eat. Carbohydrates are definitely the preferred source of energy! Our bodies quickly break them down into glucose, which feeds our cells as energy. We also store glucose in the form of glycogen in our liver and muscles, which the body will tap into once glucose stores are depleted during activity. (2).

It is important to consume a meal or snack predominately coming from carbohydrates before a workout. But, it is also key to include a small amount of protein, especially for weight lifting!

When we exercise, our muscles experience small microtears. These tears must be repaired by protein in order to create bigger and stronger muscles. So, including some protein in your pre-workout meal or snack gives your muscles a bit of a head start to repair and grow.

Choose easily digestible sources of carbohydrates and protein before a workout. Avoid heavy meals, anything fried or very fatty, or foods that tend to make you bloated or gassy, like beans. That way, your body won’t be tied up in the digestive process and it can focus on the work.

Timing

Giving your body the proper fuel means nothing if you don’t time it right. Eating too far away or too close to a workout won’t give you the benefits of the nutrients you consumed.

As a rule of thumb, wait at least 30 minutes after eating before exercising, and don’t go much longer than three hours between eating and working out. Try to have a carbohydrate rich snack if you’re exercising between 30 minutes to one hour. You can also have a meal that includes plenty of carbohydrates two to three hours before working out.

My one exception to this rule is if you can’t stand the thought of eating something before your 6 AM workout. There may even be some benefits to exercising after an overnight fast (3). If this is the case for you, just make sure you are prioritizing your post-workout nutrition! FYI, you still need to have water if you’re exercising on an overnight fast.

Pre-Workout Meal and Snack Ideas

If you are exercising in two to three hours, consider having one of these meals:

  • One cup of oatmeal with fresh fruit and peanut butter
  • Two egg veggie omelet with whole wheat toast, sliced avocado, and a side of berries
  • Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and granola
  • Almond butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread
  • Brown rice, roasted vegetables and lean protein of choice
  • Whole wheat pasta with roasted vegetables and tuna
  • Smoothie with unsweetened almond milk, peanut butter, frozen banana, and blueberries

If you’ll be working out in closer to 30 minutes to two hours, choose a snack:

  • Rice cake with peanut butter and banana slices
  • Apple nachos
  • A banana with almond butter
  • Handful of trail mix that includes nuts and dried fruit
  • One or two energy balls
  • Granola bar: I like RX bar, Larabar, 88 Acres, KIND bars, and Bob’s Red Mill Oatmeal Bars
apple nachos

What to Eat After a Workout

It is essential to eat after a workout. We need to replenish the glycogen stores we depleted during exercise, and provide our muscles with the protein building blocks to repair themselves and grow stronger.

Refueling properly after a workout helps you avoid fatigue and revs up the recovery process. Then, you can hit the gym again strong to keep meeting your fitness goals!

Macronutrients: Carbohydrates and Protein

We need carbohydrates after a workout because we used up all the energy from the ones we ate before exercise. We also tapped into the glycogen stores in our muscles. Complex carbohydrates are best because they come with fiber and other nutrients that are beneficial for our health. Think whole wheat bread, quinoa, or sweet potatoes versus processed carbohydrates.

You’ll also want to eat a substantial amount of protein after a workout. We want to give our muscles the building blocks to repair themselves while we rest. Try to get at least 10-20 grams of protein after working out. You may need more protein depending on gender, body size, and activity level. For example, strength athletes need 1.2-1.7 grams of protein/kg body weight, compared to 0.8-1.0 grams of protein/kg for the general population.

Timing

The timing of when you consume your carbohydrates and protein post-workout matters, but maybe less so than we once thought. White traditional recommendations say to eat within 30 minutes of exercise, the window or opportunity might actually be wider. One study showed that eating protein immediately to three hours after a workout increases muscle protein synthesis. Combining protein with carbohydrates after a workout may lead to even bigger muscular gains (4).

Another study showed that, depending on the timing and composition of a pre-workout meal, the window for ingesting protein after a workout may be several hours long (5). So, if your pre-workout meal contains adequate protein, you may experience similar muscle protein synthesis changes to someone waiting until after their workout to ingest protein.

Eating after a workout goes beyond just stimulating muscle growth, though. It prevents fatigue, gives us back the energy we used up, and replenishes glycogen stores. Because of this, I recommend eating a meal or snack within one hour of exercising.

Post-Workout Meal and Snack Ideas

Don’t Forget to Hydrate

Make sure to drink water before, during, and after your workout. The amount of water you need depends on the temperature you’re working out in and the intensity of the exercise. You’d obviously need more water working out in a hot or humid climate. The goal of hydration is to replace the fluid lost when we sweat. Here are general hydration guidelines:

  • Consume 14-22 oz two hours before exercise
  • Drink 6-12 oz of water for every 15-20 minutes of exercise
  • Drink 16-24 oz of water for every pound of body weight lost in sweat after exercise

Water is the best choice, but if you are exercising and sweating a lot for over an hour, a sports drink is a good choice to also replace the electrolytes lost in sweat (2).

Every Body is Different

This post is meant to serve as a general guideline for what to eat before and after a workout. These guidelines may vary individually based on gender, body size, type of exercise, age, and many other variables. Listen to your body to decide what’s best for you!

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Why You Should Add These Magnesium Rich Foods to Your Diet

Learn about the mineral magnesium and why it’s so important for us! This post also includes a list of delicious magnesium rich foods you can add to your diet.

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium is an extremely important mineral for the human body. It is required as a cofactor in over 300 enzyme systems that perform all kinds of biochemical reactions! Magnesium is needed for protein synthesis, blood pressure regulation, blood sugar control, and muscle and nerve function, just to name a few.

Because more than half of the magnesium in our bodies is found in bone (50%-60%), magnesium levels are difficult to measure. However, many Americans are not getting the recommended amount of magnesium in their diets. The current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA’s) for magnesium for adults is between 310-420 mg per day, based on age and gender (1).

Magnesium Health Benefits

Magnesium plays a crucial role in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the human body. Because of this, it has significant health benefits.

  • Cardiovascular Disease: Magnesium might help to lower blood pressure. High blood pressure/hypertension is a known risk factor for stroke and heart disease. There is limited evidence that magnesium supplementation is associated with lowering blood pressure. However, one study showed that increased dietary magnesium from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet lead to a drop in blood pressure (2).
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Diets high in magnesium are beneficial to prevent Type 2 Diabetes, likely because magnesium plays an important role in glucose metabolism. One meta-analysis showed that increasing magnesium intake by 100 mg per day significantly lowered the risk of Type 2 diabetes (3). Type 2 Diabetes causes higher urinary losses of magnesium, so it’s also important for those with the disease to get enough in their diets.
  • Bone Health: More than half of the magnesium in our bodies exists in bones. It is a part of bone formation, and helps regulate concentrations of other factors needed for strong bones. Even though we stop accumulating bone mass by the age of 25, research shows some positive associations between magnesium intake and bone mineral density in adults (4). This is especially important for post-menopausal women, who are at higher risk of osteoporosis! Magnesium may be just as important as calcium and vitamin D to promote good bone health.
  • Sleep: Magnesium supplementation may help with sleep and insomnia. One study showed that 8 weeks of daily magnesium supplementation lead to improved measures of insomnia, such as sleep time and serum melatonin levels (5).

Eight Magnesium Rich Foods

Now that we’ve gone over the importance of magnesium, and recognize what a powerful mineral it is, here are some delicious ways to add it to your diet!

Spinach and Leafy Greens

kale caesar salad

Half a cup of cooked spinach contains 20% of your daily magnesium needs. Enjoy it as a base for a salad, sautéed in an omelet, or blended into a green smoothie! Spinach and leafy greens are also good sources of fiber, and vitamins A, C and K. Try this Kale Caesar Salad with Spice Roasted Chickpeas or Spinach, Mushroom, and Caramelized Onion Goat Cheese Quesadilla recipe to get your daily dose of leafy greens!

Beans and Legumes

mushroom tacos with mango avocado salsa

Beans and legumes are an inexpensive source of plant based protein, plus tons of other nutrients. Half a cup of black beans contain 15% of your daily magnesium needs, and half a cup of kidney beans contain 9%. Beans are one of the foods that people in all five Blue Zones eat regularly, which are areas of the world where people live longer than average. Try out these Quinoa Enchilada Stuffed Peppers or Mushroom Tacos with Mango Avocado Salsa, both which include black beans.

Avocado

chickpea avocado stuffed sweet potatoes

We all know that avocado is full of healthy fats and potassium, but it also contains magnesium. One cup has 11% of our daily needs. Avocado is such a yummy and filling addition to salads, grain bowls, and even smoothies! Check out my Chickpea and Avocado Stuffed Sweet Potatoes and Vegan Avocado Quesadillas for some new avocado filled meal ideas.

Tofu

crispy baked tofu, magnesium rich foods

Tofu is a versatile vegetarian diet staple. It is an inexpensive, easy to prepare source of plant-based protein, and it also contains minerals like magnesium, calcium, and iron. A 3.5 oz serving of tofu contains 13% of our daily magnesium needs. Some of my favorite tofu recipes include these Peanut Tofu Vermicelli Rice Noodle Bowls with Quick Pickled Vegetables, Tofu Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce, and Crispy Baked Tofu.

Edamame

edamame

Another soy product, edamame are immature soy beans. They are eaten steamed, and are delicious on their own with just a little salt! Edamame is a nutrition powerhouse, as it contains fiber, healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates. It’s also a good source of Vitamin C, iron, and magnesium – one cup has 24% of our daily needs. Try steamed edamame as one of my favorite Healthy Snack Ideas or in this Broccoli Salad with Thai Peanut Dressing.

Nuts

chocolate coconut balls, magnesium rich foods

Nuts are one of my favorite foods to snack on. They’re a good source of healthy fats, plant-based protein, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals. Almonds and cashews are particularly good source of magnesium. One ounce of either will give us around 20% of our daily needs! I love making healthy sweets using nuts, nut butter, or almond flour. Check out these recipes that use nut based ingredients: Almond Butter Zucchini Brownies, Freezer Cookie Dough Fudge, and Chocolate Coconut Balls.

Seeds

cauliflower sweet potato salad

Like nuts, seeds are also a wonderful food to snack on. A tablespoon of flax, chia, or sesame seeds gives us around 10% of our daily magnesium needs. I love to sprinkle seeds on top of oatmeal bowls or salads, and include them in my baking. This Cauliflower Sweet Potato Salad with Tahini Citrus Vinaigrette recipe uses sesame, or try this Blended Chocolate Chia Pudding.

Dark Chocolate

Fudgy Tahini Brownies with Chocolate Drizzle

Saving the best for last, dark chocolate is probably everyone’s favorite magnesium rich food! A one ounce piece contains 16% of our daily magnesium needs. Dark chocolate is also rich in flavanol antioxidants, which are protective against cardiovascular disease. Dark chocolate is obviously delicious on it’s own, or in desserts! Try these Fudgy Tahini Brownies or Raw Cashew Coconut Snickerdoodle Truffles.

Magnesium is a super important mineral for a ton of biochemical processes in our bodies, and has many health benefits. Load up your plate with magnesium rich foods to get your daily doses! As you can see, including a variety of foods from different food groups will give you a healthy dose of magnesium, as well as other necessary vitamins and minerals.

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