It's not just a matter of what to eat before and after a workout, it's also important to know when to eat. You want to have enough energy to keep your muscles working at their best and to keep your mind alert. If you eat too much and exercise too soon after eating, your stomach could become upset and you might feel like puking, or worse, you could suffer from diarrhea-not what you want when you're in the middle of a mini-marathon.
On the other hand, if you don't eat enough, you can suffer from fatigue and light-headedness. So the trick is to find a good balance.
If you want to eat a full meal before exercising, nutrition experts suggest you allow three to four hours before exercising. This gives your body enough time to digest the food. You don't want your body to struggle with digesting and working out simultaneously.
The most important meal you eat is breakfast, because your body, while you slept, has used all the energy of the meal you ate the night before. So wake up early enough to eat a hearty breakfast and still have three to four hours before you head out. If you can't allow that much time, eat a smaller breakfast. But eat something.
So what to eat? Well, the most important foods in terms of energy are those made of carbohydrates. Carbs are stored in your muscles and are what provide them with fuel. Good sources of carbohydrates are most cereals (but not bran), breads, pastas, vegetables, and rice. Proteins are needed to keep the muscles healthy and are found in meats, dairy, and nuts. Keep the ratio of carbs higher than the protein, especially before an intense workout. Good advice, however, is to stay away from beans.
So if you can afford those four hours before exercising, eat a good hearty meal. Give yourself plenty of carbohydrates and protein and don't worry about the intake of fats. If you only have three to two hours, then just lessen the amount of food you put on your plate. But still stress the carbs over the protein. In case you don't have that much time, you might want to make yourself a drink. Mix some orange juice with low-fat yogurt, a little soy milk, and a banana in a blender. Add a couple of slices of toast on the side and you're on your way.
Remember that water is a huge priority, especially after you work out. Sweat is, after all, made up of water that your body has just thrown out. So you need to replenish it. Some experts suggest that you weigh yourself before and after you workout. Then drink an ounce of water for every ounce you lost.
Watch the food intake after exercising, especially after a very heavy workout. You might be very hungry, but that doesn't mean that you can afford to pig out. Carbs are still important, even after you're done. So keep them as a priority.