Whether you are a college athlete, a high school athlete, or someone who just enjoys working out, knowing what to eat before and after training or practice is important.
As a former college football player at NC State, we were constantly told what to eat - and most of the time to eat more of it. Based on some of my experiences, I’ll try and give you a good idea of why eating before and after training is important and what foods are best.
Why Eating Before Training or Practice Matters
During training, your body is going to likely burn a lot of calories. Now, this obviously depends on your sport, activity level, duration, and many other factors, but especially in college you could expect to be there awhile and work hard - a recipe for burning calories.
If you don’t eat before training, you are likely not giving your body enough fuel to complete the workout. Simply put, food is energy. More importantly, carbohydrates are our bodies' first source of fuel. So by not eating before training you are putting yourself at a performance disadvantage. Not to mention, no one wants that upset stomach feeling going into a workout or practice. Nine times out of ten it can be avoided with proper nutrition and hydration leading up to training.
Why Eating After Training or Practice Matters
You may have heard of the “anabolic window” immediately following a workout. Some people take it so far as to down a protein shake immediately after they set down the dumbbell on their last set. While this is likely a myth, eating after training is still important.
Especially, after a hard training session, your body is depleted in fuel. Eating foods high in both protein and carbohydrates not only helps you refuel, but also begin to build muscle following a lifting session. If you are an athlete, eating after training is going to also help you recover for your next session. If you have two training sessions, practices, or even games in a day this is critical.
What To Eat Before Training or Practice
The first thing to consider is how long you have until you start practice or training. What you eat 30 minutes before training versus three hours varies tremendously.
As a general rule, you want what you eat to get easier to digest the closer you get to training.
For instance, if I had practice at 5 pm, I ideally would eat a full meal sometime between 1 pm and 2 pm. This meal could look like grilled chicken and rice, steak and potatoes, or spaghetti and meatballs. The important thing to note with this meal is that you have time to digest it, but you still don’t want to eat foods that could upset your stomach. Foods that are high in fiber, fat, or even spicy foods should be avoided this close to practice.
As you get closer to practice, you want to eat again. Ideally, you want to top off your carbohydrate stores with some easy-to-digest foods. Some great examples here would be gummies, rice krispy treats, or pretzels.
What To Eat After Training or Practice
After training, you may not feel hungry initially. That is okay. You don’t have to eat immediately, but it’s a good idea to get food as soon as possible.
Going off the previous example of a 5 pm practice, let’s say it gets over at 7:30 pm. A great idea here is to eat dinner at 8 pm if possible. Be sure to include protein and carbohydrates for recovery as well as plenty of water and electrolytes. Need some help with hydration? Check out our article here.
Protein shakes or chocolate milk can be a great option too if you aren’t in a position to eat a full meal immediately. Tart cherry juice can also be a great source of carbs and help speed up the recovery process.
You are now ready to train! Try out these suggestions and see what works best for you. Maybe you like eating a full meal 2 hours before training or maybe 5. This can depend on the person, so be sure to experiment with training and practice so you are ready to go on game day.
Let us know if you have any questions and feel free to leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!