If you’re hitting a workout, it’s important to fuel up prior to exercise and to repair muscle damage afterward. Without the right nutrition, you might find yourself feeling weak and fatigued, where you won’t be able to maximize your results at the gym or build lean, strong muscles.
However, while you should be eating carbs around exercise for adequate energy and stamina, some carb-containing foods are better than others at giving your body what it needs. For instance, you might not want to bite into a sweet treat, like a donut, before or after that HIIT class.
While you might think your workout can simply cancel out sugary, refined foods because you’re burning calories and raising your metabolism, you’re likely overcompensating for how much you’re burning and how all that sugar will affect your body later on. Instead, look to these sources of carbs, which will provide immediate and sustainable fuel to get you through that workout and help your body heal afterward.
Carbs to Eat Before a Workout
Bananas have more fast-acting carbs and some natural sugar to give you that immediate source of energy to get through your fitness class. Plus, you can eat it on the go if you’re in a rush to get to the gym. It also has potassium, a source of electrolytes, to help you work harder and longer.
Try some instant oatmeal (or you can make overnight oats and have them pre-workout) for a quick energy boost before hitting the gym. Oats have some good fiber to help keep energy sustained throughout the duration of the workout, and the oats can settle your belly without causing too much gas or discomfort. If grains do give you GI problems, go with a grain-free granola instead.
Apples also have some sugar and fiber to fill your belly and keep you alert when exercising. You can pair it with some nut butter or a cheese stick for added fuel and protein to get you through those burpees and squats. What’s more, apples have been shown to improve brain health and cognition, so you’ll feel more mentally alert when exercising and have better memory retention for learning and fine-tuning new skills.
Carbs to Eat After a Workout
After a sweaty workout, your electrolyte stores are depleted, so you’ll need some sodium and minerals, like potassium, magnesium, and calcium, to re-hydrate and balance out the body. Pretzels are an excellent option, as there’s a touch of salt and some good source of carbs to bring back energy and replenish. Pair with some nut butter for a well-rounded post-workout snack, as the good fats and protein from the nuts are needed to strengthen and repair muscle damage.
Eating a protein bar after the gym can be a quick, easy snack that’ll give you a dose of carbs, fiber, and protein to help you replenish and build muscle. When there’s fiber, that means the carbs are more “complex” instead of “refined,” where they are slower digesting and will hold you over afterward, too, and you’re bound to be ravenous after a tough workout.
Baked Sweet Potato
Post-workout, enjoy some sweet potato for a starchy veggie that’ll give a good dose of carbs along with potassium and magnesium to provide electrolytes. You can have homemade sweet potato fries (a little salt is okay, too!) or enjoy a baked sweet potato. However, there’s not much protein or fat in sweet potatoes, which your body needs after a sweat session, so fill that baked potato with diced chicken, Greek yogurt, and avocado to add protein and healthy fats for a balanced meal.
Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, certified health coach, and author of 5-Minute Energy. She can't resist a good sample, a margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. She writes for various magazines, such as Men's Health, Women's Health, SELF, LIVESTRONG, POPSUGAR, Allure, Health, Cooking Light, and more. Learn more about her on her website: isadorabaum.com.