Nowadays, more and more people are seeking to get nutritional advice for an ideal diet before and after exercise. It should be emphasized though that the nutritional needs of each person is unique even if they share a common goal (i.e. weight loss). A healthy and nutritionally complete personalized eating plan, requires taking into consideration the personal nutritional needs of the individual. These are based on factors like age, body weight, physical activity or health status. Specifically, an adequate nutritional intake means that your diet supports the optimal functioning of the body, ensures that there is adequate intake of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements) as well as assisting in the maintenance of a healthy body composition (i.e. fat and muscle mass percentage).
You should limit your meal intake within the recommended 2-4 hours before exercise. You could add a small snack in your eating plan 1-2 hours before exercise, if you feel that you need a bit more energy! However, prefer to choose foods that are easily digested, especially if your exercise begins in an hour or less. This will help you avoid possible gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. vomiting and diarrhoea).
Note that there is not an ideal choice of meal or snack before exercise which fits to everyone. This will depend on your personal goals (e.g. weight loss, building muscle mass) and nutritional requirements of your body. In this post, you can find ideas to start your diet plan before and after exercise. Do not forget that the help of a dietitian is necessary for the formation of an appropriate personalized diet plan.
What should I eat before exercise?
Examples of foods / snacks:
- Small bowl of cereal with chopped fruit and yogurt
- Pasta or rice with sauce based on low fat ingredients (e.g. tomato, vegetables, lean meat)
- Milkshake or fruit smoothie
- Baked potato with cheese stuffing and tuna or chicken + 1 glass of milk
- Sandwich with 1 teaspoon peanut butter and a banana
- Greek yogurt with berries
What should I eat after exercise (20-60 minutes after exercise)?
Examples of foods / snacks:
- Sandwich with wholemeal bread, turkey breast or chicken and vegetables (e.g. spinach)
- Salmon with boiled potatoes (consume potatoes with skins to make sure you get the maximum benefit of fibre consumption!) and vegetables
- Lean meat (e.g. chicken, turkey) or shrimp with whole wheat pasta and vegetables
- Beef with rice and vegetables
- Salad with couscous or quinoa plus lean meat, grilled vegetables, kale
- Yogurt with berries
- Recovery smoothie (with low-fat milk and fruit)
- Low fat chocolate milk
- Unsalted nuts
Why is it good to eat before and after exercise? Simply..
- Because our bodies need carbohydrates to fuel the muscles which work during exercise.
- Because our body needs protein to help build and repair the muscle which you used during exercise.
Combine a meal of your choice providing both protein and carbohydrates 2 to 4 hours before exercise and within about 20-60 minutes after exercise. This will give you the nutritional supplies you need to achieve your goal.
Do not forget to read the related article on hydration. This will help you to form a complete picture on the importance of developing good hydration strategies before, during and after exercise!
Australian Sports Commission, (2009). Eating Before Exercise. Available from: http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/fact_sheets/eating_before_exercise
British Nutrition Foundation, (2015). Nutrition for sport and exercise. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/an-active-lifestyle/eating-for-sport-and-exercise.html
Sports Dietitians Australia, (2017). Eating & Drinking Before Exercise. Available from: https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/fuelling-recovery/eating-drinking-sport/