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What to Eat After a Workout (and Before)

Whether you’re training for your first half marathon or trying to put on some muscle, there’s a right way to fuel your body. Unless you’re trying to lose weight, you likely need to eat more when endurance training. If you’re strength training, you should probably up your protein intake.

Katie Szostak, owner of Stak House Fitness, a certified personal trainer, and Eat to Perform nutrition coach, specializes in helping athletes and non-athletes alike understand what to eat after a workout. Here, she shares tips for fueling up for your fitness goals.

Generally speaking, what should a woman eat before and after working out?

If a workout is 30 to 60 minutes long, I recommend a combination of protein, carbs, and fats 30 minutes to an hour before. Prior to a morning session, for example, I might eat egg whites, a whole egg, oatmeal, and berries. After a workout, try to eat something high in protein, along with a few carbs, within 30 minutes. I usually have a protein shake and rice cakes. I’ll add peanut butter if I’ve had a long cardio session on top of my strength training. Then eat another full meal when you get hungry. 

oatmeal with fruit for breakfast

Do different types of workouts have different nutritional requirements?

Yes, nutrition needs vary based on energy output. The main concept is that fat and carbohydrates give energy, while protein helps build muscle. In my opinion, everyone needs to eat a high-protein diet to build and protect the muscle our bodies need in order to maintain strength throughout our lives. Long runs or long bike rides, when energy must be sustained for a long period of time, are best fueled by a higher-fat, moderate-carb diet. Not only does that help keep energy high, but it also helps maintain a healthy body fat percentage, which is something that can be a struggle for endurance athletes. Strength training requires more protein and less fat.

What common mistakes do women make when it comes to eating and exercise?

The two biggest mistakes are not eating enough and having too many cheat meals per week. Over time, many women have come to believe that in order to lose weight, they aren’t supposed to eat, but that simply isn’t true. Calories are not the enemy when you are eating the right foods and portions. As we age, our metabolism slows and we must understand that food needs to be fuel. We have to eat enough of the right things in order to perform well and be healthy. Women also need to be mindful of what they are eating day to day. It is easy to think that one or two “cheat” snacks a day won’t affect us, but that’s not true. They add up! If you follow a meal plan designed for your exercise regimen, and have one scheduled cheat meal per week, you can see progress quickly.

Bonny Osterhage is co-founder and small-group trainer at BodyArchitecture Personal Training and Fitness in San Antonio, Texas.

Photos: Trent Lanz, Andrew Cebulka

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