With the rise of high-intensity interval training, it’s not just athletes who are working out like professionals. HIIT workouts can burn hundreds of calories and leave your body feeling like it just can’t recover. If you’re exercising at that intensity with any kind of regularity, proper nutrition before and after is key.
That said, we don’t all have access to a nutritionist or pricey pre-and post-workout powders. Many of us would like to know: Is it possible to get what you need from regular old food? And if so — what should we eat, exactly?
What to Eat Before an Intense Workout
We don’t always give much thought to what we eat before a workout, but studies have shown that getting the right nutrients before exercise will help you maximize your performance and minimize muscle damage. According to Kevin Libby, nutritionist and founder of PH2 Nutrition in Santa Monica, “pre-workout nutrition is always goal-dependent.”
If you’re an endurance athlete, Libby says you’ll want to load up on a complex starch paired with a simple sugar and a healthy fat before your workout. “Anything over a 2-hour training block requires a lot of wattage,” he explains. According to the US National Library of Medicine, complex carbohydrates include foods like peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Examples of healthy fats are avocado and olive oil. As for simple sugars, Libby recommends agave or blackstrap molasses. You can make a meal that includes these components or whip up a pre-workout smoothie.
“If the training is only a 45-90 minute workout, a simple sugar-caffeine grouping is excellent,” says Libby. This could take the form of an iced matcha with honey, or if you’re living the low-carb life, try “MCT oil in coffee with a scoop of collagen peptides,” he says.
What to Eat After an Intense Workout
Carbs may get a bad rap, but it’s actually very important to eat them after a tough sweat session. A 2014 study showed that carbs help protect muscles from breaking down and increase muscle mass — especially when eaten after a workout. Any carb will do, but as Libby explains, “whatever sport you are training for, we want high bioavailability of nutrients for easy digestion, greater uptake, and faster assimilation.” Examples of easy-to-digest carbs include sweet potatoes, quinoa, and oatmeal.
Consuming adequate protein after a workout is also necessary; your body needs the right amino acids to repair muscles and build new muscle tissue. Instead of protein powders, opt for easy-to-digest proteins like eggs, salmon, and Greek yogurt.
Libby also recommends drinking plenty of water and adding some salt. According to Harvard Health Publishing, if you’re extremely active in the heat you can lose thousands of milligrams of sodium per day.