For the best pre- and post-workout foods, you’re looking for maximum efficiency and absorption to give your muscles the fuel they need to perform hard and maximize recovery. Pre-workout fueling can start as early as three hours prior to your workout and post workout takes place up to two hours after your workout (don’t wait that long). Whether you’re looking for the best foods for running or just seriously interested in improving your nutrition, these pre-workout powerhouses pack a serious nutritional punch.
No nutritional powerhouse list would be complete without describing the benefits of berries. Loaded with anti-oxidants and hunger quashing fiber, these superfoods are a great add-in to breakfast, a post-workout smoothie, or any other time of day. If you’re short on creativity, they can also round out a simple dinner or afternoon snack. For the biggest nutritional punch, without the toxins, choose organic berries, as fresh as you can find. Eat them quickly and replace them frequently.
2. Organic milk or yogurt
These foods feature dairy’s fastest absorbed protein component, whey. Include whey protein or these foods in your post workout nutrition to aid in muscle repair and possibly even boost immunity. If you’re looking for a balance of quick absorption and satiety, you can also seek out a protein powder that includes both casein (see more on casein here) and whey proteins. Lactose intolerant? While it’s not a guarantee, you might have better luck with a whey protein isolate. I love the products offered by True Nutrition, which also offers you the option of custom mixing your preferred blends.
When you’re looking to build in healthy carbs around your workouts, honey is a nice way to keep things natural. Locally sourced honey is a traditional folk remedy for seasonal allergies and boosting immunity, making this a nutritious choice when it comes to sweetening your pre-workout coffee or post-workout smoothie with some quickly absorbed carbs.
4. Coffee or black tea
Caffeine makes hard workouts feel easier. If you include caffeine in your diet, pre-workout (perhaps with a bit of honey) is the way to go. On top of its workout boosting benefits, both black tea and coffee are powerful sources of cancer fighting anti-oxidants. I enjoy these both before and after my workouts. Before, try combining coffee, organic, grassfed butter, and honey in a blender for a healthy dose of workout fueling carbs and satiety inducing fats. Post workout, a scoop of your favorite protein powder combined with coffee or tea is a great way to refuel and stave off the afternoon slump.
5. Sweet potatoes, bananas, white rice or potatoes
While carbs tend to get a bad rap on the paleo and whole foods circuit, as an athlete you need them to fuel your workouts. The best approach is to build in carbs immediately around your workout, both before you work out in order to top up glycogen stores, as well as during your recovery window, when you’ll be repairing muscle and replenishing the glycogen you used to fuel your workout. Following this approach, you’ll probably find that lower fiber, easily digestible carbs will work best to ensure quick absorption and to minimize digestive upset. Sweet potatoes and bananas, as well as other high carbohydrate fruits are good bets at this time, but it’s also okay to make use of simple starches, such as white rice or white potatoes without the skin. While these foods are not efficient nutrition for most meals, if you want to avoid bonking during your next hard work out, they are invaluable in meeting your macronutrient requirements.
Now that you’ve optimized your pre-workout nutrition, read about the best foods to help you recover in Part II of this series.
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.