You’ve made it to step one: you’ve found a way to fit a few workout sessions into your week, and you’re already feeling like you’re on top of the world. Whether you’re practicing yoga, sweating it out in spin class, jogging a few days a week, or incorporating weight-lifting into your routine, exercise has improved your physical and mental wellbeing and simply makes you feel good.
Perhaps you’ve seen your body change a bit after altering your routine; you may feel stronger, faster, leaner, or mentally clearer. If you want to maximize those benefits, it’s time to add another little something to your healthy day: eating whole, nutritious foods.
Eating the right foods before and after a workout can help you maximize the benefits of your new exercise routine. While many fitness sites will tout the pros of protein powders and supplements (which can be great for you!), we prefer to start with a natural, real foods route. Depending on the type of exercise you’re doing, different meals made of whole grains, protein, or a mix of both can help maximize your exercise gains.
First up: rich carbohydrates. If you’re a runner, eating a meal rich in energy-sustaining carbohydrates (not the fast-acting kind you’ll find in white bread or donuts) is key to sustaining energy throughout your workout. Try oatmeal a few hours before your jog for a fiber-rich meal that sustains your energy throughout your entire run. Nutrient-rich leafy green carbs – like spinach, kale, or arugula – help replenish vitamins and minerals after a tough workout, while a banana can replace the electrolytes and potassium you’ve lost through sweating.
Post-workout, protein-rich foods tend to be the way to go. In order to see the muscle gains you’re hoping for, adding protein is necessary to help your muscles repair themselves and build up. Protein is also a key building block to ready your body for the workout ahead. Pop some nuts after your workout to quickly increase your protein intake and aid in muscle replenishment. Protein-rich foods that are also full of omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and lessen muscle soreness. Greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein that also contains probiotics, which can help your food digest more effectively.
If you’ve had a particularly rigorous workout, combining whole grain carbohydrates and high protein foods is the perfect way to replenish your muscles, ease soreness, and maximize your strength and endurance gains. Top Greek yogurt with oatmeal-based granola to balance carbs and protein. Bake up some cod with a side of sautéed greens, asparagus, or your other favorite veggie. Add peanut butter to celery and crunch away. Fry a quick egg and place on top of a half english muffin. The options are endless!
All in all, when you incorporate whole foods into your diet, you’re replenishing the nutrients lost during your workout while maximizing the benefits you can enjoy from working your body. It’s truly a win-win!