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What to eat before and after working out

Posted at 11:39 AM, Aug 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-08 11:39:59-04

If you’re working out hard, it shouldn’t matter what you’re putting in your body, right? After all, you’re burning off all those calories!

Oh, if only that were the case.

Though I’ve long been disciplined about exercise, I struggle with how to eat properly. I’m a busy person and it’s hard to find time to cook balanced meals/meal prep every day. I eat pretty healthy thanks to my pescatarian diet, but I also have a major sweet tooth. Case in point: I finished a kickboxing class last week with a cupcake. (In my defense, it was the instructor’s birthday! And my birthday was the following day! But I digress.)

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So I reached out to Charlotte Martin, a dietician with Medifast, for some advice. Martin has dabbled in all kinds of diets over the years, and even did her college honors project on the popular Paleo diet.

As for what you should eat before and after working out, “it really depends on workout type and workout intensity,” Martin said.

A solid pre-workout snack should include both protein and carbs—protein to build and repair your muscles, and carbs to give you a consistent supply of energy. Good examples include grapes and low-fat string cheese, and bananas and almond butter.

Martin also plugged Medifast Dual Fuel energy bars and shakes, which contain a 2-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.

After your workout, you need protein more than carbs, so something like a high-protein Greek yogurt or a protein shake is a good choice.

“One of the biggest mistakes is not eating (after a workout),” Martin said.

But she said to try to avoid eating too much fat, especially saturated fat, right after working out, as it can make your stomach feel uneasy.

I told her about the cupcake I inhaled after kickboxing. A treat once in a while after a workout is not the end of the world, she assured me, as long as I felt OK afterwards.

Again, though, it all depends on what kind of workout you are doing. If you’re doing something like yoga, you may not need to eat anything first, Martin said. But if you’re working out hard for more than an hour—say, if you’re doing a long run—you want to make sure you nourish your body first.

Martin also recommends drinking eight ounces of water 30 minutes before exercising, 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during the workout and eight ounces a half hour afterwards.

One thing that’s growing in popularity is the “fasting workout,” Martin said, which means you don’t eat for 12 hours before working out. Many people who follow that don’t eat from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., then work out first thing in the morning.

“Some people swear by it. I tried it for a little while. It was hard,” Martin said. “I just had no energy.” 

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