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Ask Levi: What Should I Eat Before and After a Workout?

Today’s question about eating before and after a workout is a follow up to this question about proper nutrition for riding and racing.

When you say a big meal before hand, does that mean like pasta, chicken, potatoes, etc? I imagine you eat the oatmeal and PB&J sandwich like 1 hour before training/riding. On Saturday and Saturdays are my most intense days. 2 hour of spin, ab work and yoga, and then like 40 minutes of weights. Pretty much all day at the gym.

I am absolutely starving at the end and just want to pig out and usally eat things when I get home that arent good like Oreos and other nasty stuff because I don’t know what to make. Should I eat a huge breakfast on these days, or should I sort of carbo load for dinner the night before. Usually my coach doesn’t let us eat during practice for some strange reason. So, is there any good, filling food I should load up on for breakfast/dinner night before. I have tried the PB and toasted Banana sandwich (Very tasty 😀 ) but that alone doesn’t fill me up for long.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions!!
-Nutritious Nick

Hi again Nick,

Typically I’d go for 800-1000 calories if I’m eating 3-4 hours before the workout, with an emphasis on complex carbs, protein, and fat. A very large bowl of oatmeal or two sandwiches (big, dense slices of bread, thick banana slices, thick layer of peanut butter) work for me. Then I might grab something like a Nature Valley or Kashi granola bar 1 hour beforehand.

You could do the same thing with a couple plates of whole wheat pasta or wild rice and chicken, though. I have found a lot of people eat much less than I do, so it’s really just a personal thing. Perhaps you need a little more protein and fat in your meal, who knows.

The best thing you can do is try different foods in different amounts until you find the perfect combo. It’s worth it!

I don’t think I have the recipe for this up yet, but I like to make banana smoothies post workout. I put 1-2 sliced frozen bananas, 1-2 whole eggs, a splash of orange juice, and 1-2 cups milk together and blend. It’s quick to make and filling. (Usually I end up with around 36oz of smoothie!)

As for “no eating during practice,” I’ve had coaches with similar philosophies, such as “water makes you weak.” If you can’t eat during the workout, try sneaking in calories by drinking Accelerade or Hammer Perpetuem, which could get you 240-500 calories in one water bottle if mixed strong enough. The extra protein, plus the sheer number of calories, should help out. (It’s basically liquid food.)

Although, if you’re eating that much food and you’re still hungry, maybe it’s time to totally rethink your strategy. You might even want to go without any breakfast! It sounds crazy, but some people are having great luck with that strategy. (But going sans breakfast requires you to start drinking and/or eating during the ride.)

You could also try eating a 3,000 calorie breakfast (sort of like Michael Phelps’ super high calorie diet,) but it’s hard to digest and absorb all that food right before a ride, and I would expect that to do more harm than good.

But like I said, test all the scenarios and see how each one works.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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Hometown, PA