What foods to eat before or after sport?

The body needs to assimilate nutrients before being challenged. But be careful, you shouldn't eat just anything! Two experts explain to us what to eat to be in shape before going to the gym, but also what to eat after physical exertion to recover properly.

To take care of your body and your health, it is recommended to have a balanced diet and do  30 minutes of physical exercise per day. But before going for a run or an intensive Zumba class, you need to eat properly . Although it is not recommended to exercise on an empty stomach, certain foods should be avoided. What should you eat or not eat before exercising? And after ?

Should you drink and/or eat before exercise?

“Studies are unanimous on this subject: performance is better when physical activity is preceded by a meal,” announces the French Cardiology Federation (source 1). If eating before sport is recommended for better performance, you can also do without it to do sport on an empty stomach.

Should you also drink before exercise? The answer is yes. “  It is very important to drink enough before, during and after exercise to avoid dehydration, allow the transport of nutrients and reduce the risk of sustaining an injury. Water serves in particular as a lubricant between the different tissues,” notes the Federation.

Drinking helps compensate for water losses linked to sweating , which can be very significant depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise, the temperature and the humidity level of the air. Uncompensated, they can have dramatic repercussions on performance and health.

Except in cases of very prolonged exercise, water is sufficient. Otherwise, you can opt for energy drinks adapted to the athlete's energy, vitamin and mineral needs. You can drink water two to three hours before a sports session, always in small sips, up to 10 minutes before the sessions.

How to eat before physical exercise?

Ysabelle Levasseur, dietitian-nutritionist, recommends eating complex carbohydrates, in order to 'nourish' the muscles used during exercise. You can therefore eat pasta, rice, cereals to stock up on energy at midday.

Foods rich in complex and simple carbohydrates

She also advises the absorption of “simple carbohydrates”, which are found in:

  • Compotes without added sugar;
  • Fresh fruits, such as apricots, rich in potassium, iron, copper and magnesium, or bananas . The latter is also “  the fruit of the athlete, because it is digestible and neutralizes the acidity of the stomach” , specifies the dietician.

When it comes to meals, eat a diet rich in starchy foods and moderate in protein to stay in shape during training. If your sports session takes place between snack and dinner, consider swallowing “a slice of wholemeal or semi-wholemeal bread for its contribution of fiber , proteins, minerals and its glycemic index more interesting than that of white bread”, advises the dietitian. Those with gluten intolerance can opt for chestnut bread, rich in potassium.

Foods rich in antioxidants for bodybuilding

Blueberry, rich in antioxidants (vitamin C in particular) is recommended for bodybuilding, because it can help muscle fiber to regenerate. The role of antioxidants is to protect cells by stopping the harmful action of free radicals, generated when the body undergoes stress, which is the case during sport, and in particular bodybuilding. Other foods are rich in antioxidants: brightly colored fruits rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C (red fruits, carrots, apricots, red peppers, mangoes, etc.). You will find vitamin E in nuts, almonds, avocado, wheat germ…

When to eat before sport?

The best solution to be in shape during training: eat three to four hours before exercise to give the body time to digest the meal. In fact, it is better to prevent the digestive system from working during activity!

Except that professional life does not always adapt to this need. Finding the right time to optimize your performance depends on each athlete . The main thing is not to disrupt the body's natural rhythm .

No need to get ahead of your hunger. Wait until it is felt before having a meal, otherwise you risk not eating properly, advises Nicolas Sahuc, liberal dietitian attached to the Montpellier CHRU.

But how can you urgently manage your hunger a few minutes before training? The dietician advises opting for “easily digestible and absorbable products such as compotes, exercise drinks or a small cereal bar. These foods suppress the feeling of hunger without overloading the body. » A little patience is necessary to learn to recognize the body's signals and find what suits us best.

 Avoid eating nuts which are fatty and can slow gastric emptying, creating digestive discomfort. Dried fruits , rich in carbohydrates, risk causing a slump mid-workout or digestive problems linked to water absorption,” he adds, however.

Athlete's breakfast: what to eat before a session?

When it comes to breakfast , we choose foods with a low glycemic index to burn calories and especially more fat.

  • It is recommended to have a good intake of proteins, which slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, and are useful for the functioning of muscle mass. You can eat a slice of ham or a hard-boiled egg for example;
  • It is recommended to have an intake of cereals , a real fuel for the body. We turn to bread , rusks, pasta, rice or semolina (yes yes, for breakfast!). Muesli can be a good alternative.

The egg, the “star” food

Please note: the egg is the “star” food of an athlete’s breakfast. It provides a very interesting source of protein (a whole egg provides around 7 grams of protein) and is not at all sweet. Plus, you can vary the recipes endlessly! Hard-boiled egg, fried, scrambled, with vegetables, pancakes, in the form of a high-protein omelette…

What foods should you avoid when exercising?

Ysabelle Levasseur takes stock of foods to avoid, such as “foods that are too fatty and/or too sweet or even industrial dishes”. The nutritionist also advises not to eat too much “so that it is not counterproductive”. You will thus avoid “the inconveniences, such as nausea, linked to too long digestion”. Finally, remember to chew your food well to facilitate digestion.

“Whether 'good' or 'bad' fats, it is preferable to limit their consumption before sporting activity,” adds the French Federation of Cardiology. Lipids need a relatively long time to be digested and “digestion is therefore likely to continue during physical exercise and cause serious gastric discomfort”.

In addition, bad fats or saturated fatty acids stiffen the arteries which, on the contrary, must remain elastic to provide oxygen to the muscles.

The French Federation of Cardiology also warns on one point: “  the meal preceding intense physical activity is certainly not the opportunity to try new foods, nor even to choose foods which have the habit of causing discomfort such as legumes, cruciferous vegetables which can ferment and cause bloating , but also spicy or caffeine-rich foods.”

Another tip: avoid sugary snacking before a sports session , which raises blood sugar levels too high. This is where the dip (hypoglycemia) occurs during exercise.

As for drinks, coffee , tea and sodas, like all drinks containing caffeine, must be limited because they can dehydrate us when we exceed a certain dose.

What meal after sports training?

It is not always easy to choose the menu after a sports session, but the body does need to be nourished. Whether you are a fan of yoga , running , tennis or the weight room, the feeling of hunger always wakes up. You might as well prepare yourself to avoid making bad choices and to stay in great shape.

To recover well after a sports session, favor “  foods that promote recovery such as milk, fruits, vegetables and almonds,” explains Ysabelle Levasseur.

After exercise, bananas, blueberries, protein foods…

Immediately after exercise, I recommend eating fruits rich in carbohydrates, such as bananas, apricots, grapes or blueberries. You can also eat protein foods such as dairy products, which will provide the body with amino acids lost during exercise. Ysabelle Levasseur

A protein intake after exercise is especially indicated "  in the event of an intense weight training session or when the workouts are very close together", as suggested by Canadian dietitian Tristaca Caldwell, interviewed by the Best Health Mag site (source 2).

The dietician-nutritionist also offers a gourmet milk recipe, composed of 125 to 250 ml of semi-skimmed milk, a teaspoon of defatted, unsweetened cocoa powder, accompanied by half a banana to make the full of nutrients.


What should you drink after sport?

In terms of hydration, if you exercise for more than an hour, and especially if you sweat a lot, you can drink an energy drink . Very popular with athletes, it contains electrolytes which will compensate for the loss of sodium and potassium lost in perspiration. If your activity requires less effort, or is short, you can simply drink water.

“It is important to hydrate and consume carbohydrates within 30 minutes of exercise ,” says Tristaca Caldwell, to help the body assimilate the nutrients it needs.

Eating after sport in the evening: five menu ideas

Morning exercisers jump out of bed as soon as the alarm rings, put on their sneakers and go to work out, while evening exercisers reach their peak of energy after their day's work. Nutrition and sports expert Cynthia Sass, interviewed by Health magazine (source 3), gives some ideas for meals that provide proteins and good fats without weighing down the stomach.

  • Prepare a portion of classic hummus or a lentil-based version and accompany it with a few slices of raw vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers or any seasonal vegetable you like;
  • Mix a small portion of fresh salmon with a handful of spinach and a spoonful of tapenade . To make the mixture even tastier, add a few leaves of romaine lettuce;
  • A handful of chickpeas, a spoonful of olive oil and a pinch of salt are enough to stock up on nutrients. Grill in the oven or pan until golden brown;
  • Prepare a salad using hard-boiled eggs and chopped vegetables , such as cabbage or zucchini, and season everything with a spoonful of pesto;
  • Five or six thawed shrimp go perfectly well with a serving of guacamole. Just avoid over-spicing this dish, as some spices can affect sleep.

Digestion time: can we exercise after eating?

Overall, it is advisable to leave some time between eating and exercising. It is advisable to wait between 1 hour and 1.5 hours between the time of the snack and the start of the sporting activity. If it's a meal, we even wait 2 or 3 hours. We must give our digestive system time to work.