Whether you’re training for a half-marathon or preparing for a sweaty Zumba class, what you eat before and immediately after your workout is just as important as the workout itself. “If you work out for longer than an hour, you’re likely running low on stored glycogen, the carbohydrate that fuels muscle contractions,” says Mary Jane Detroyer, RD, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer in New York City. Here’s what to eat before and after your one-hour-plus workouts to reach your fitness goals.
Before you work out
Eating 150 to 200 calories before an hour or longer exercise session won’t make you gain weight. Rather, a small snack allows you to increase the intensity of a run, ride, hike, or fitness class—and in turn, helps you burn more calories than if you were underfueled. “You want a snack to last the duration of your workout, so you can finish it strong,” says Detroyer.
The details: Thirty to 60 minutes before exercise eat a “mini-meal” that includes carbohydrate, protein, fiber, and a small amount of fat.
Try: 1 string cheese + 3 whole-wheat crackers; 1 cup butternut squash soup + ½ tablespoon oil; or ½ cup whole-grain cereal + ½ cup milk + ¼ cup fruit.
After you work out
Following a workout, your muscles are most receptive to absorbing glycogen. “If you don’t eat a post-workout snack, you’ll be fatigued the next day and your next workout will suffer,” says Detroyer. “Without a snack, you won’t be able to correctly recover and get stronger.”
The details: Within 20 minutes after your workout, replenish muscles with foods or beverages that deliver 150 to 200 calories and contain a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4:1. Including ample protein in meals is typically a good idea because it keeps you full longer, but in this case you want an easily digestible carbohydrate that your muscles can quickly absorb, explains Detroyer.
Try: 1 cup nonfat chocolate milk; 1 small baked sweet potato + dollop of plain yogurt; or 1 slice wheat bread + 1 tablespoon each
nut butter and jelly.
Do I need a sports beverage?
If you’ve exercised for less than an hour, you don’t need an electrolyte-containing sports drink during or after working out. Plus, most conventional sports beverages contain high-fructose corn syrup and/or artificial flavors and neon-hued colors, which many people want to avoid.
If you exercise at a high intensity for more than one hour, however, consider a beverage to replace electrolytes. Electrolytes are the essential minerals (sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium) that help conduct electrical impulses that signal muscles to contract. Strenuous movement and sweat create a temporary electrolyte imbalance. If you sweat for too long without replacing electrolytes, you’re more likely to experience cramps, dizziness, and nausea, according to the American Council on Exercise.
We’ve put sugary and artificially colored and flavored sports drinks on the DQ list. Sip on these bevys for a cleaner way to cross the finish line.
This low-calorie, electrolyte-rich beverage contains coconut water, sea salt, Non-GMO Project Verified potassium citrate, and stevia extract.
Drop a 12-calorie fruit-flavored tablet (sweetened with stevia and monk fruit) into water for a 101 mg-potassium and 359 mg-sodium boost.
Sip this Non-GMO Project Verified sports beverage, made with evaporated cane sugar and coconut water concentrate, for a burst of electrolytes.