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I have two related questions:

  1. What is the best time to eat before working out and what is the best thing to eat to get a good workout? Same question for post workout (should I eat immediately or wait a little while).

  2. I often get hungry right before I am going to the gym and I am trying to figure out the best thing to eat at that time to avoid messing up my workout but still satisfying my hunger.
    I know I should probably eat an hour or two before but sometimes it just doesn't happen. I am asking this as a separate question compared to #1 as my assumption is that I might get a different answer given it's so close to the actual workout.

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What are you doing at the gym? Body building or aerobic, or both? –  Chris S Sep 20 '11 at 9:21
    
@ChrisS - both.. –  leora Sep 20 '11 at 10:15
    
The usual advice is to concentrate on aerobic on one day, and anaerobic on the other day. That way you can also eat different food types for each. But if that's too much hassle then do the aerobic first and eat low GI carbs such as pasta or pitta bread –  Chris S Sep 20 '11 at 10:26
    
It depends on many factors such as time, on the morning or during the evening? There is no one-way-to-Rome but try to think this in terms of Energy. Body can break proteins (aka amino acid things) into energy and carbonhydrates into E. But body cannot make all proteins! Body can make some amino acids such as the meat-amino-acid (pectine?) but not the important ones in eggs, soy and milk. So in a way it is better to make sure protein intake but there is a cost: it requires energy to break up complex proteins and use them for E consumption. So the work variety (aka diversification) is a key. –  user2598 Dec 28 '11 at 4:34
    
@mods: I think it would be better to break this kind of questions into many smaller questions or use this as CW question. "Nutrition right before workout" is different to "Nutrition right before worktout with XYZ restriction", it is much easier to answer specific questions -- not to have vague answers. This site is in danger of becoming bloated... –  user2598 Dec 28 '11 at 4:38

4 Answers 4

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Right before your workout: Like you said, it's best not to exercise on a full stomach, so you should avoid large meals for about 1.5-2 hours beforehand. This will obviously vary depending on how long it takes you to digest. However, it's also really difficult to work out if you're hungry, so if you need a snack right before you exercise you should choose something gives you energy without filling you up. My personal favorite is a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and honey. The honey gives you the boost you need to get started, and then the peanut butter and toast provide a gradual release of energy. The best part about this snack is it packs a lot of energy into not a lot of volume. It does have a considerable amount of calories though, so if you're just doing a light workout it might be best to push through without it, or drop the honey.

Food that will help you get a good workout: This will largely depend on what kind of exercise you're doing, but in general you should have a healthy mix of complex carbohydrates, protein, fruits, and vegetables. Here is a useful link that gives tips about what to eat in general for fuel, and what to eat during a race (it's targeted towards runners, but could be useful for anyone doing a lot of aerobic exercise). If you scroll down to the bottom you'll see a list of recommended foods, which includes things like nuts, eggs, lean protein (turkey and salmon), whole grains, oranges, and mixed greens. The proportions will vary depending on what kind of exercise you're doing.

After your workout: Check out this question for a debate on the "window of opportunity" after you work out. It's definitely true that you need replenishing energy sources in order to build muscle and recover - which means a good mix of protein, carbs, and good fats. This site recommends meals like chicken/brown rice/mixed vegetables, omelets with avocados, or protein shakes if you're on the go.

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Pre-Workout:
I use to have a protein shake ahead of time, now I just have some caffeine to help with the intensity of my workout. I also have some ibuprofen or some other anti-inflammatory for my joints. I talk more about pre-workout nutrition below, and some of the Useful links discuss this also.

Post-Workout:
You should eat as soon as you can after working out. There is a window of opportunity that we have after working out, the reason behind this is summarized in that document. They also have a link to post workout nutrition and to other documents in the pdf. This is also the only time I make sure to have a bit of sugar because the "increased quantity of insulin in the blood will drive much needed glucose and amino acids through the receptor sites in the muscle cell at an increased rate."

Those are just my suggestions, out of everyone I have talked to and exercised with everyone was a bit different when it came to pre-workout nutrition, it is just hard for me to exercise on a full stomach so I eat little 2 hours before I workout. I also believe it is bad to eat too much before working out. I would just make sure to have some sort of carb(energy bars or drinks) for your energy levels for your workout.

Useful Links:
What to Eat Before Exercise
Should I Eat Before I Exercise?

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You take Ibuprofen before every work out? Do you get serious pain from your lifting? –  Mongus Pong Sep 20 '11 at 10:04
    
I usually take some before workouts where my knees are involved, I have had two knee scopes and it seems to keep them from getting too sore. Also, there is no serous pain from my lifting, as there shouldn't be. –  dkroy Sep 21 '11 at 17:05

Just take a small bag of nuts/raisins/other dried fruit with you. That way, you won't be hungry and won't feel stuffed. Also, no problem with forgetting them in the gym bag for a week :)

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Pre-workout:

Caffeine 200-400 mg + Whey protein 25-40 g

Caffeine will not only activate your sympathetic nervous system and get you ready to lift some heavy weight, but it will calm your appetite as well.
The protein is added to get the protein synthesis ball rolling (gets you ready for recovery).

Post-workout:

Within 60-120 minutes, try to get a 2:1 ratio of simple carbs (like white bread, potatoes, pure dextrose, etc) and protein (whey protein, lean chicken breast, etc).

How much you actually consume depends on how much you used up for your workout. If you do complex lifts (like deadlift, squats, and presses) and don't rest as much, you will be burning up more glycogen than if you were to solely do isolation arm exercises while taking your sweet time.

A good amount to shoot for:
50 g carbs, 25 g protein. And limit the fat (there is no role for this post workout).

For more info:
The Ultimate Workout Nutrition Guide

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