I cannot count the number of times I’ve pulled out of my city for a road trip with an empty tank of gas. That’s because it’s never happened. Aside from making sure I have everything I need in my luggage, and a stash of mostly healthy snacks, the first thing I do before turning on the GPS is fill up my gas tank. Otherwise, that’ll become a very short and probably expensive trip.
It’s a common metaphor to compare our bodies to gas tanks, but it couldn’t be more true. Our bodies need food for energy, for brain function, to get us from point A to point B in our workouts.
I want to explain which snacks are best for both sides of your workout and why snacking for each should be treated differently.
“The two snacks should be very different. First and foremost, the harder or longer your workout is, the more important each snack becomes,” Holly Perkins told us, a fitness expert and ambassador for New Balance.
She explained that a pre-workout snack has dual functionality. “One, to ensure immediate fuel from the very moment you begin your workout, and two to preemptively start the protein recovery process so that you’ll feel great for TOMORROW’S workout.”
Before a workout, you want to keep it simple with easily digested foods. Don’t eat a huge meal or anything that could cause stomach disruption, like hummus or beans. The purpose of this pre-workout snack is to prevent low blood sugar, increase muscle and liver carbohydrate stores, and prevent hunger throughout the duration of your workout, as well as provide the energy you need to power through.
Holly told us, “You want a combination of easily digestible protein paired with a moderately fast carbohydrate. You don’t want a super fast carbohydrate like sugar or a sports drink because this kind of sugar enters the bloodstream very quickly. This means that it will also exit the bloodstream quickly, leaving you tired mid-workout.”
Perfect pre-workout snacks include:
- Low-sugar, low-fat protein bar
- Glass of skim milk
- Non-fat yogurt
- Low-fat string cheese with an apple
- 2 oz turkey or grilled chicken with a small handful of low fiber crackers
- 10-14 grams of whey protein with a handful of berries
Now, when I return from a road trip, I almost always have to pull off and refuel before I get home. It makes sense, a few hundred miles of non-stop engine running and it’s used up all of its energy. Again, our bodies are the same. An hour at the gym, a five mile run, or 90 minutes at yoga, it’s all burning up your energy stores and it all needs to be replenished. Not to mention tearing muscles that need to be repaired. You might feel like it’s counter-intuitive to burn calories and immediately eat more, but it’s actually the best thing you can do for your body, for today and tomorrow.
Holly told us that the hungrier we feel after a workout the more important that snack really is!
“The goal of your post-workout snack is one, to provide fast protein to muscles so they can begin the recovery process (this may help prevent muscle soreness, and will provide you with a great workout TOMORROW), and two, provide fast carbohydrate to restore blood sugar as well as liver and muscle glycogen levels.”
Holly recommends fast carbs with fast proteins, and very little fat, that way it hits your blood stream quickly and begins digesting quickly.
“Here is where the fun indulgences can be useful because sugar can be used as a tool for recovery,” Holly comments. Her post-workout snacks sound like treats because they are; after all, you worked for it!
“Numerous research articles have proven that whey protein isolate and whey protein hydrolysate are the fastest digesting proteins. (These are different from whey protein concentrate),” continued Holly. She said her favorite post-workout snack is a fast-carb like banana, sugar or white rice cakes with a protein.
Post-workout snack ideas include:
- 15-20 grams of whey protein mixed with a banana or flavored syrup
- Whey protein mixed with water and a sports drink
- Chocolate milk
If your workout lasts less than 60 minutes and doesn’t include any cardio, Holly suggests a pure protein snack is best for your recovery. Think Greek yogurt, grilled chicken, or cheese. “If you are not performing cardio, your body may not need the replenishment of carbohydrates. Here a whey protein isolate or hydrolysate mixed with water may be best,” she said.
To play up this whole road trip metaphor, stay fueled during your workout too. As in, road trip snacks! Stay hydrated with water, and if you’re in an endurance workout, for instance marathon or triathlon training, you’ll want to have a small snack every three or four miles, like grapes, orange slices, or even all-natural fruit snacks. That quick hit of sugar acts like a turbo-boost on your body (car) and keeps you moving.