By: Nancy Chen, Blogger @ApproachingPaleo
Look on deck before a swim meet, and you can see bags of bagels everywhere. Think of a pre-race meal, and it’s probably a pasta dinner. Take a peek at what people are eating post-race, and it ranges from pizza to bagel breakfast sandwiches.
Even for non-endurance athletes and people who just want to optimize their workout, the common conception for pre-race or pre-workout fuel is that it should be very heavy in carbs. Which, for many people, come in the form of gluten.
As a boxing instructor, half marathon finisher, and workout junkie, I’ve been asked how I keep my energy levels up while eating Paleo. There’s this misconception that you need pure carbs to function, so you should be eating bread like no other.
While it’s true that carbs can provide your body with energy, carbs can come from foods other than bread or pasta. In addition, most people eat more carbs than they really need - if you’re an endurance athlete and training for long distances, then your carb intake should be higher. If you’ve just completed a lower intensity workout like yoga or a shorter workout, then your carb intake levels do not need to be as high.
The other topic of note is the gluten. Even for those without Celiac’s, gluten intolerance can be real. If you don’t have gluten sensitivity, it doesn’t hurt to avoid gluten before and after a workout for a couple of reasons: many foods that contain gluten are by nature processed. Look at your loaf of sandwich bread - yes, even if it’s mostly whole wheat flour, it can be filled with other additives that you may not think about. Whether it’s the gluten or the processing of these ingredients, some find that by avoiding gluten before and after their workout helps avoid stomach discomfort.
You may be asking yourself, “Ok, then what do I eat?” Here are some suggestions:
For pre-workout, often a banana with nuts is sufficient (and is one of my go-to’s). Other good options are apples with peanut butter or a preworkout bar. If you aren’t grain-free, some find that oatmeal is a good source of fuel as well if you have longer to go before your workout.
For post-workout, real food is often the way to go. Not only does it nourish your body and replenish it with nutrients, but it also can make you more satisfied than simple carb-heavy meal. You should be aiming for a mix of carbs and protein for optimal muscle recovery - try a sweet potato with almond butter and yogurt if you need a good dose of carbs, a post-workout “mug cake” made with bananas and protein powder, or grab a bar with real ingredients, like ToYou’s post-workout bar.