If you do challenging workouts like Tabata or Crossfit—the kinds of exercise that make every muscle in your body scream for mercy—good for you! That means you’re in great shape, and you’re working hard to stay that way.
However, here’s a question for you: While you’re crushing your workouts, are you getting the maximum benefit from them by fueling up correctly?
Like an Indy 500 race car, your body needs to have the best fuel in order to perform to a high standard. When you eat the right foods before a workout, you’ll have plenty of energy to finish it instead of running out of steam halfway through. And it’s even more important to eat the right foods afterward, so your body can build new muscle. Here’s the story.
When you do an intense workout, you actually create microscopic tears in your muscles. While this sounds bad, it’s actually a very good thing. That’s because your body quickly repairs those muscles, making them stronger in the process. In effect, your body says, “Oops—looks like I didn’t make this muscle strong enough for what it needs to do, so I’m going to do better this time.” So fueling up before an intense workout is important, and fueling up afterward is absolutely crucial. Here’s how to do both.
Before your workout…
To signal your body that a workout is coming, eat a light snack of protein and fat about 15 minutes to an hour before you exercise. (That fat is important, so don’t skimp on it!) This will give you a quick shot of energy. Don’t overdo this snack, because you don’t want it to weigh you down. Before I hit the gym, I typically reach for hardboiled eggs, nuts, a little coconut, or a high-quality jerky that contains no artificial additives or sugar.
After your workout…
I’m sure you breathe a sigh of relief when you finish an intense workout—but in reality, your body is just starting its hard work. At this point, it needs to rebuild those micro-tears in your muscles so they’re stronger than ever. To speed this process, you should refuel within half an hour. At this stage, I recommend eating a meal-sized serving of easy-to-digest protein such as chicken, salmon, or egg whites, along with a starchy carb like jicama, sweet potato, or winter squash. (This is one time when you don’t need to add fat.)
A protein shake is another great option. Use a high-quality protein powder, add a handful of fruit, and you have the perfect post-workout refuel. This is a “bonus” meal, so you can go ahead and eat your regular meal at the usual time.
A reality check…
While we’re talking about fueling your body for a workout, here’s one more tip: Before you reach for a pre- or post-exercise snack, be sure you really need it. If you’re simply doing twenty or thirty minutes of moderate exercise, your body will do just fine without a boost. In fact, snacking before and after an easy exercise session will do more harm than good, by adding carbs and calories you don’t need. In this case, simply rehydrate yourself with a glass of water after your workout, and you’ll be good to go.
However, if you’re doing a muscle-burning, heart-pounding, holy-mackerel-will-this-ever-end workout, those before-and-after snacks are critical—so promise me that you won’t skip them, even if you’re trying to slim down. Those few extra calories will boost the power of your workout, helping you to lose weight and sculpt your body faster… so don’t let that fuel tank run dry!
Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!