Don't let all of your hard work at spin class go to waste by eating or drinking things that won't make you feel-and look-your best. These superfoods will help you power through a tough sweat session and leave you ready for more tomorrow. By Paige Carlotti, REDBOOK.
Pre-workout: Banana and peanut butter
You can dip just about anything in peanut butter, but bananas are the way to go when it comes to fueling up for a workout. They're rich in potassium, an essential mineral that is frequently lost in large amounts while breaking a sweat. One hour before a tough gym session, smear a tablespoon of your favorite protein-packed, all-natural spread onto the carbo-loaded fruit for the fuel your muscle tissue and nervous system need, says Christine Avanti, author of Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food. The protein-carb, or PC-combo, offers a healthful balance of lean protein and fiber to stabilize blood sugar, thus curbing any nasty sweets cravings later.
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Pre-workout: Coconut water
With natural electrolytes and less than half the sugar of store-bought sports drinks, this beverage has earned itself the title of "nature's Gatorade," says Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., founder of Real Nutrition NYC. The nutty drink is an easily-digestible carbohydrate that gives your body the immediate energy it needs for the workout ahead. It's also rich in potassium, which helps reduce the risk of pesky, disruptive cramps. Drink it straight, add a splash to any smoothie or soup, or use it to steam some veggies, recommends Shapiro.
Pre-workout: Breakfast smoothie
With the sheer number of new smoothies, shakes, and juices out there, it's hard to distinguish the legit from the bogus. But trust us on this one, a smoothie will enhance performance and silence a growling tummy when guzzled before a workout. Tracy Anderson, celebrity trainer and founder of the Food Program by Tracy Anderson, recommends whipping up a sweet potato smoothie by blending 1 sweet potato, 1 scoop artificial-sweetener-free vegan vanilla protein powder, 1 cup organic hormone-free milk, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp turmeric in a high-power blender. This shake is especially beneficial for those who weight-train because sweet potatoes are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates and vitamin C, which is exactly what your muscles need for quick power surges during heavy lifting.
Liven up your next bowl of hot cereal by garnishing it with your favorite fruits, like berries or bananas, for natural, energy-boosting sugars, says Monique Ryan, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. Choose slow-cooked cereal, which is higher in fiber and lower in added sugar than the packaged stuff, and mix with water or milk. Since an oatmeal and fruit combo is an easily-digestible, low-sugar carb, it will, when eaten before a workout, give your body the energy it needs for quick muscle contractions, says Katherine Beals, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Utah. "Avoid adding any granola, though-it's heavy and can clog your digestive tract. Similarly, protein and fat combos are more difficult to digest and can cause bloating, cramping, and stomachaches."
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Post-workout: Fruit and nuts with Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
While you can find all of these components in a single package, Ryan advises adding fresh fruit and walnuts to a container of plain Greek yogurt for a less processed, lower-sugar post-workout snack. Greek yogurt contains two to three times more protein than regular yogurt, giving your muscles the nourishment they need to recover and help you stay fuller longer, thus warding off post-exercise hunger. If you're not a big fan of Greek yogurt, opt for cottage cheese instead, which is also high in protein and low in fat.
Post-workout: Turkey and cheese sandwich
"Don't be afraid of carbs," says Avanti. "Just make sure you're eating good carbs." After hitting the gym, stack 3 oz of roasted turkey, 1 oz of light Swiss cheese, and your favorite veggies on whole-wheat bread to ensure that you're filling up on naturally-occurring, unprocessed carbs: They're high in fiber, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and they help to stabilize blood sugar. This hoagie is another example of the protein-carb combo your body needs to carry on after a draining hour at the gym. "If you don't have the PC-combo, you'll start craving sugars three to four hours later and end up OD-ing on sweet treats," explains Avanti.
This high-protein, high-fiber ancient grain can be eaten either pre- or post-workout, but we recommend saving it for afterward for a burst of easily-digested protein and low-glycemic (meaning it won't mess with your blood sugar) complex carbohydrates. Avanti suggests replacing a bed of lettuce with a 1/4-cup serving of quinoa, tossing in some finely-chopped veggies, olives, and feta cheese, then drizzling on a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar for yet another tasty and wholesome PC-combo. Fearful of quinoa-overload? Keep the lettuce and sprinkle it over your salad instead.
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Post-workout: Chocolate milk
Your favorite lunchroom drink is about to become an essential part of your adult diet. It has the simple sugars, protein, dairy, and just enough fat to help you recover and milk your workout for all it's worth. Shapiro calls it a "performance-based" drink, meaning it will help mend your muscles so they're at their best the next day. "Low-fat, organic chocolate milk helps you recover by quickly refilling your muscles with glucose (sugar we use for energy during exercise), therefore rehydrating you and providing the proper ratio of nutrients so you can perform well shortly after," says Shapiro. Have a glass within 30 minutes of wrapping up your workout: It's the period when glucose replacement is fastest, and therefore the best time to refuel your muscles to allow for recovery.
Post-workout: Chia seeds
"If you properly hydrate during a workout, you won't be ravenous afterward," says Shapiro. When water doesn't do it for you, squeeze some chia seeds into your diet. "These keep you hydrated because each seed can grow up to 10 times its size by absorbing water." They're nutrient-dense, bursting with fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, and the slowly-digested fiber and water content keep you feeling full. Shapiro advises adding them to your water bottle, oatmeal, or yogurt. They even come in the form of bars, like those made by Health Warrior, which pack a healthy 100 to 110 calories each.
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