The question I get asked most is what to eat before and after a workout. In months past, I would spout off things I've read, learned, studied, been told, tried, etc. It wasn't until I read Thrive and really started thinking about the science of the body and how everyone offers "canned" information, that I started to revisit this very important question.
What you eat before and especially after your workouts can make or break your energy level all day long. For many people, they work out on an empty stomach, eat a piece of toast, cereal, a piece of fruit, or a protein shake and then down a sugary sports drink during or after. It's what we're told to do. Eat complex carbs. Eat simple carbs. Eat protein. Eat fat. But, what's the best bet for your body?
The key is to find something that will immediately be used by your body as fuel. Simple carbs are the preferable choice, so your body doesn't have to use complex carbs (or convert complex carbs to simple carbs because it ran out of energy). For instance, if you eat a high fiber cereal pre-workout, your body has to use the energy to digest the food instead of supplying your muscles with immediate fuel. A lot of times, people "gas" out in their workouts, and it's usually because your body is using energy to digest your food, leaving you little energy for your workout.
The best pre-workout foods are ones that are easily digestible. Fruit is the optimal choice, dates being one of the best because they are rich in glucose and they go straight to the liver for immediate energy. The body doesn't have to convert it to a different form of fuel to utilize it. Bananas are also a great source.
One of the best pre-workout snacks is to blend 5 dates, 2 tbs. coconut oil (coconut oil isn't stores as fat in the body and is used for quick energy), 2 tsp. lemon zest and 1 tsp. lemon juice. Grind in a food processor and then cut into little bite size pieces. They make perfect fuel bites before exercise. If that's too complicated, a banana should give you enough simple energy to get through an hour of high-intensity exercise. Also pay attention to what you're eating the night before. This can lead to early morning fatigue as well.
Obviously, what you eat after your workout is more important, since the body needs the proper fuel to recover. What most people do (and I was guilty of this as well) is to down a protein shake within an hour, because that's what we've been told replenishes our muscles. However, it is hard to digest food when your body is fatigued. So, when you down a shake with a lot of protein immediately after a tough workout, all the blood rushes to the stomach for digestion instead of to the extremities to help the body recover. Since the body has a hard time digesting food when it's fatigued, a quick liquid drink or recovery pudding made mostly of simple carbs are great options.
A recovery drink could consist of the following: water, a banana, blueberries, almonds, ground flax and 2 tbs. hemp protein, all blended to give you immediate fuel. Then, in an hour, you can have your more protein-based shake (try the brand VEGA - it has everything you could ever need in a protein powder and will reduce soreness completely!) or a nutrient rich meal.
So, to reiterate: eat simple carbs before and immediately after your workout (post-workout can have a bit of protein in it) and then a nutrient-rich meal an hour after your recovery drink. Learning the science of your body can completely change your ability to recover from your workouts, as long as you are eating the proper fuel!