Wellness experts from Four Seasons Hotel Toronto and Hong Kong share the best foods for boosting your energy before a workout—plus what to eat post-exercise.
Although eating and working out may seem like two separate concerns, you might be surprised to realize that when the correct foods are consumed, food can actually help fuel your workout.
, for instance, which have often been thought to be the source of energy crashes, can actually benefit your body before you head to the gym. The key is to have a mix of both complex and simple carbohydrates that will release energy during your workout. Now, this is not to say that eating a generous helping of pizza before working out is a good idea—instead, think snacks such as whole-wheat toast with fruit that will give you both types of carbs with the bonus of being easy to digest.
Moreover, working out can build up an extreme appetite—but again, not a good idea to load up on just any carbs on the way home from the gym either. When your body is in recovery mode post workout, lean proteins and nutrient rich dishes are the way to go.
We asked the heath and wellness experts at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto and Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong to give their tips on the best foods to fuel your workout, and here’s what they had to say:
What are the best foods to eat before working out and why?
Todd Hewitt: Proteins such as eggs, chicken and regular-fat yogurt are best as they help to stabilize the blood sugars. Fruits such as bananas, oranges and avocado give you instant energy as they metabolize easily and do not tax the digestive system.
Are there certain foods that are better targeted for certain forms of exercise? For example, is there a food that’s better for marathon running as opposed to strength training?
For long-distance and high-performance exercise, you need whole foods—not pasta, and not junk food. Protein is critical and [try to stay away from foods labeled] “low fat.” Great options are meat; chicken; fish; eggs; fruit; veggies; brown rice; quinoa; and salads with legumes, nuts and seeds. If I were running a marathon tomorrow, I would have a steak with lots of veggies, sweet potatoes and a nuts-and-seeds salad with olive oil and vinegar.
As your body goes into recovery mode after a workout, what are the best foods to eat and why?
You have a two-hour window of time to get food into your system to recover. Water is the number one thing to have first. You also need to eat easily digestible foods such as fruit, veggies (avocado is great), lean proteins, nuts and seeds, almond butter, and rye bread. Shakes are perfect when made with whey protein, chia or flax seeds.
What foods should be avoided and why?
Anything that is fast, fried, junk or processed should be avoided. They are usually stripped of nutrients and spike insulin levels, making you hungry later. They also tend to make you constipated and are hard on the digestive system.
Are there any on-the-go snacks you recommend for boosting energy?
Andrew Cox: I highly recommend slow-release energy foods that give the body the nutrition to release the energy it needs to sustain itself throughout your workout, as well as your entire day. Here are some ideas for nutritional foods to pack with you for the day. I always bring a Tupperware container loaded with the following:
1. A carrot peeled and cut in half length-wise with unpasteurized butter put on it (think of it as a carrot-and-butter sandwich!). The fat soluble vitamins in the butter—vitamins A, D and K2—aid with nutrient assimilation, and zinc and magnesium make a great pairing. Moreover, fat-soluble vitamins found in raw butter support the immune system and strong bones and teeth.
2. A capsicum (bell pepper) cut into wide strips
3. A cucumber cut into quarters and sprinkled with dried kale
4. A small amount of olive oil with apple cider vinegar (to promote gut health)
5. Some raw almonds, brazil nuts, cashews or macadamia nuts
6. On longer days, include a small piece of meat.
What are some principles to keep in mind while packing these snacks?
1. Whole foods not faux foods!
2. A combination of macro nutrients (carbs, protein and fats)
3. Get some different colours
4. Count nutrients, not calories
5. Make it fresh daily
6. Mix it up—change your vegetables or fruits every week, or when you are ready.
7. If you have weight problems, have Type 2 diabetes or are pre-diabetic, always lean toward vegetables over fruits.
8. Processed foods and “carbage” should not even enter the equation.
If you have a sweet tooth, what do you recommend as far as energy-boosting desserts?
I recommend dark chocolate as close to its raw state as you can get it, since it’s high in antioxidants and magnesium. Pair dark chocolate with coloured fruits such as berries, and add crème fraîche or natural yogurt. Not only will you have a delicious dessert, but a well-rounded one as well.
The goal is to live by the 80/20 rule—a minimum of 80 percent of the foods you choose are nutrient dense and a maximum of 20 percent can be a compromise of differentiating scales.