You may know how to make the most of your training once you hit the open road or head to the gym, but do you also know what and when to eat to maximize your results? Top registered dietitians and sports nutrition experts share what they do to fuel their own sweat sessions, and shed light on how some of their favorite pre- and post-workout snack options can help you take your training to a whole new level. Whether you get your run on before the sun comes up or prefer to break a sweat after a long day at the office, these nourishing fueling options will ensure that you remain on top of your game as you prepare for race day.
While sitting down for breakfast may be the last thing on your mind in the wee hours of the morning, proper fueling is essential to make the most of your early AM training session. Eating a relatively small carbohydrate and protein snack, such as a banana paired with a tablespoon of peanut butter, 30 to 60 minutes before you hit the gym will keep your stomach from grumbling while you work up a sweat. Kristen Carlucci, R.D., nutrition expert for Pitney Bowes Inc., finds that this combination of slow-burning carbs, protein and a little bit of healthy fat keeps energy high and blood sugar levels sustained throughout a workout, while the punch of potassium from the banana helps prevent cramping.
For a nutritious treat you can sip on as you get ready to take on your day, whip up a mini-meal smoothie made with plain nonfat yogurt, mango, pineapple, cinnamon and a touch of toasted wheat germ. Not only does this beverage taste great, it also blends three important elements of refueling—fluids (provided by water-rich fruits), carbohydrates (from the fruit and yogurt) and protein (in both the yogurt and wheat germ). Emily Ann Miller, M.P.H., R.D., recommends drinking this satisfying smoothie 30 to 60 minutes after an intense hour-long workout, as the fluids will help replenish sweat lost and the carbohydrates work to replace glycogen used during exercise. While the protein in this beverage helps to keep you full and is believed to possibly enhance muscle recovery, Miller points out that carbohydrates are key for replenishing glycogen stores. That’s why your post-workout snack or meal should contain three to four times as many calories from carbs than from protein.
Who says cereal is only for breakfast? To adequately fuel your active day, board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., recommends chowing down on a heart-healthy combo of uncooked oatmeal and a mixture of dry cereals (such as Grape-Nuts and shredded wheat) paired with slivered almonds, chopped dates and low-fat milk (or almond milk if you prefer). This high-energy option should be eaten one to two hours before you exercise to get you through any workout. Clark practices what she preaches when fueling her own workouts, such as long run to train for a marathon, and she also shares this information with her roster of clients, which includes Olympic athletes and members of the Boston Red Sox.
If you’re squeezing in a run on your lunch break, a grab-and-go trio of Greek yogurt, an orange and a red bell pepper is not only convenient, but, because these items are also packed with water, they are both refreshing and hydrating following a mid-day workout. The Nutrition Twins®, registered dietitians and authors of the book The Secret to Skinny, share that the orange is packed with vitamin C, which is critical for preventing some of the oxidative damage from free radicals, while the red bell pepper is loaded with antioxidants to help to repair the damage done to muscles and tissues from a strenuous workout. Combine that with the energy-reviving carbohydrates and muscle-building protein in the Greek yogurt and you’ve got an easy post-workout snack option that you can have in your fridge, prepped and ready to eat 30 minutes after you break a sweat.
For a carbohydrate-rich snack that fuels muscles and boosts energy levels, try a fruit or jam sandwich on 100% whole-wheat bread one hour before you exercise. This easy, cost-effective option recommended by registered dietitian and personal trainer Ruth Frechman, M.A., R.D., author of the book The Food is My Friend Diet, is perfect for taking with you if you’re planning to hit the open road after a long day at the office.
Curb post-workout hunger by snacking on a slice of millet bread along with half a cup each of cottage cheese and blueberries 30 minutes after your evening workout. This snack favorite from registered dietitian and Oxygen Magazine cover model Tiffani Bachus, R.D., promotes quick refueling thanks to its fast-digesting carbohydrates and protein, which is needed to start building new muscle.