As a fitness instructor and nutritionist-in-training, I often get asked about the best foods to eat before and after work outs, and when exactly to be eating. Just as for all things health-focused, the answer is going to be different for everybody. Depending on metabolism, routine, health goals, preferences, and so on, there are going to be different “best” eating and exercise plans for each person. For example, if your favourite go-to spin class is at 6am and your health goals at the moment are to slim down, my recommendation to you would be far different than an after-work spinner whose main health goal is training for a PB at her next triathlon.
Having said that, there are a few rules of thumb that the majority of us spinners can use as guidelines. First, eating after class is more important than eating before class. Now, if you’re attending a 530pm spin, of course you will have eaten throughout the day, but for those 6am and 7am spinners, it’s sometimes hard to know if you should set the alarm 15 minutes earlier to grab a bite, or hit snooze and show up on an empty stomach. The truth is that the jury’s still out on the exact effects of fasting pre-workout, and for long-duration exercise you would definitely want to fuel up beforehand, but for a 45 minute early-morning ride, it’s not a bad thing to save breakfast for after. You’ll be more likely to avoid cramps, and your body will use fat stores instead of carbs for energy (which doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re losing fat, FYI, but it might . . . more research is needed).
The caveat here is that you do have breakfast right after. You don’t have to have a granola bar in your pocket to consume during your cool down, but you do want to make sure you’re eating within the hour. If you eat before your ride, your body has some nutrients stored up to help you with recovery, but if you haven’t broken your fast yet, you need some protein and carbs, stat. Protein will help in muscle and tissue recovery and carbs will help restore your energy.
My favourite post-spin breakfast is this smoothie:
-3 big handfuls of spinach (it’s a lot of spinach)
-1 cup of frozen mango
-1-2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
-1-2 tablespoons hemp hearts
-1-2 cups almond milk
I use this recipe as my smoothie base every day, and then throw in whatever else tickles my fancy that morning (a spoonful of almond butter, cinnamon, an orange . . .). It’s packed full of vitamins and minerals, but, even more important for your post-spin breakfast, it’s got all the carbs and complete proteins your body needs to recover and refuel.
If you’re reading this wide-eyed, wondering how anybody could possibly hop on the bike without having a bite first, then you’re not alone. Lots of us most definitely need to eat before a work out, whether or not the sun has risen yet. The key is to listen to your body, and if you’re hungry, then eat. My recommendation would be a piece of fruit, as this will be digested quickly and keep you feeling light as you ride, while also giving you instant energy. Melon is the most quickly digested, so if you’ve got some cubes of cantaloup in the fridge then go for that. A couple mandarin oranges, a banana, or an apple are all great options, too. If that doesn’t fill you up enough, add you favourite nut butter. My go-to is slices of apple dipped in almond butter (banana and peanut butter is the other classic option).
What if you’re a 9-5er who heads straight from the office to the bike? You probably need a boost of energy en route. My green smoothie would be great for you, too (all that fruit will give you a healthy sugar buzz to get you going), or, if you didn’t pack around a smoothie all day, keep it simple with a handful of nuts and seeds. Pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and pistachios are all good choices because they are high in protein and high in carbs, which is what you need to prevent muscle damage, while giving you energy to push yourself.
My favourite post-spin dinner is a big bowl packed full of whole grains, vegetables, and healthy fats. I love building bowls right after a work out because you can assemble a nutrient-packed meal from leftovers, fresh produce, and whatever you happen to crave in the moment, and it can be done in just a few minutes. It’s important to eat within an hour to ninety minutes of your work out, to properly repair muscle tissue, refuel, and recover, so a bowl is a quick and easy way to do that. Here’s my basic recipe:
-A base of either quinoa or brown rice (or whatever other grain you have on hand)
-A handful of spinach (or whatever other greens you have)
-A big scoop of roasted veggies (whenever you have an evening at home, roast a big pan of small chunks of sweet potato, cauliflower, carrots, and your other favourite root and cruciferous vegetables – these are great to have on hand, stored in the fridge, throughout the week)
-A big scoop of hummus
-Half an avocado
-A sprinkle of your favourite seeds (I usually go for pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, and a generous scoop of hemp hearts)
Other great add ins: sauerkraut, falafel, salmon, chickpeas, fresh veggies.
Drink lots of water after your ride, and it’s a good idea to add in some electrolyte supplements to replenish the mineral salts that you sweat out!
If you have any favourite pre- or post-ride meal ideas, please share below! And feel free to comment with any questions.