If you want to fuel your body right, consider what you’re putting into it. Planning what to eat before and after a workout is the key to maximizing the benefits of all your hard work.

It goes without saying, regular exercise does the body and mind good. Making sure you eat the right nutrients before exercising is key. But refueling your body with a post workout meal or snack is just as important. That's because when we exercise, our muscles use up their glycogen (the body's initial go-to fuel source,) leaving proteins in the muscles depleted and, sometimes, damaged. Because the human body is a wonderful machine prone to repair and regeneration, it attempts to rebuild its glycogen stores after a workout to rebuild those muscle proteins.

It’s very important to eat carbs and protein after you exercise. . That’s because it helps your body work quickly and efficiently to decrease muscle protein breakdown, increase muscle protein growth and restore glycogen stores.

Pre and Post Workout Meal Timing

What to eat before a workout: 30 to 60 minutes before your workout, eat an easily digestible high-carbohydrate snack with a little protein and fat. That could be a piece of fruit, green smoothie or dates with some nut butter.

What to eat during a workout: Every 10 to 15 minutes, sip electrolyte-rich beverages with no artificial colors and refined sugars.

What to eat after a workout: About 20 minutes after your workout eat 3:1 to 4:1 ratio of carbs-to-protein, in a snack or beverage to help replenish your energy stores of glycogen.  Focus on high glycemic, glucose-rich carb sources like smoothies (with berries, banana, spinach, chia seeds and spirulina,) or dates or nut butter with slices of banana and apple. One to three hours later, eat a high-protein post workout meal to repair damaged tissues, form strong muscles and support long-term health and longevity. Good choices include a big salad (with dark leafy greens, high protein seeds and legumes, high-protein smoothie or a buddha bowl.

We have a magical time — known as a ‘window of opportunity.’ This is the 30 to 60 minutes after finishing our workout. Our bodies are ready to refuel by absorbing carbs and protein again. We have a golden chance to replenish our glycogen stores and begin muscle repair.”  Angela Pereira, Registered Kinesiologist and Certified Nutritional Practitioner.

Drink up: Before, during and after a workout, make sure to stay hydrated. During exercise, you lose water and electrolytes through sweat. Replenishing these after a workout can help with recovery and performance.

Working out for weight loss? Don’t forget to eat. Choosing healthy choices will help you reach your weight-loss goal in a way a fad diet or dramatically reducing your calories won’t.

The combinations of foods and the sources of your food are often the way to managing your weight. As nutritionists, we focus far less on calorie restriction and much more on the quality and variety of the foods in your diet to help you become healthier. Your weight will often start to take care of itself as your diet quality improves,” Pereira says.

Working out to build muscle? For a good post workout snack, try some eggs (which are a great source of protein with healthy fats and other nutrients,) broccoli, wild fish (a good source of inflammation-fighting omega 3,) sweet potatoes or bananas (smear them with almond butter or put it in a smoothie.)

Ditch packaged and processed foods in favour of prepping and cooking your own meals from simple ingredients. And, just like mom and dad said, ‘Eat your veggies.

Add these to your grocery list for some easy to make post workout meals or snacks:

  • Egg omelet with avocado spread on whole grain toast
  • Salmon with sweet potato
  • Tuna salad sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables and rice
  • Oatmeal, whey protein, banana and almonds
  • Cottage cheese and fruits
  • Pita and hummus
  • Rice crackers and peanut butter
  • Whole grain toast and almond butter
  • Cereal with dairy or soy milk
  • Greek yogurt, berries and granola
  • Protein shake and a banana
  • Quinoa bowl with sweet potatoes, berries, and pecans
  • Whole grain crackers with string cheese and fruit