Paleo Nutrition – Pre and Post Workout Meals on a Paleo Diet

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The Paleo diet is a nutritional approach to eating designed to reduce the amount of refined foods, including preservatives that we eat. Paleo, meaning “old” or “ancient”, promotes the consumption of foods similar to the way ancient man ate. Paleo foods consist mainly of whole foods, such as raw fruits and vegetables, and unprocessed meats. Paleo diets are balanced in that you consume lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and get healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and fish. The benefits of a Paleo diet include stronger muscles, healthier bones, improved immune function and weight loss. Reducing your consumption of processed foods and fats will help reduce cholesterol and improve your cardiovascular function and heart health.

According to some researchers, the Paleo diet contains nutrients that reduce the risk of common chronic diseases associated with the modern Western diet, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Modern Paleo diets are high in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins and low in sodium. Paleo diets are also low carbohydrate. Most carbohydrates are derived from vegetables, fruits, and seeds. On the downside, Paleo diets can be lacking in vitamin D. Ancient hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic period did not consume vitamin D directly, but manufactured vitamin D via exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. The typical Paleo diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids that have a beneficial effect on heart health. The diet is also high in fiber which helps to reduce cholesterol levels.

Developing a daily Paleo meal plan is great for improved health and weight loss. Eating a Paleo meal before and after a workout won’t do you much good if you are eating junk food, high fat and highly processed foods at other times of the day.

Pre-Workout Meals
When you institute a Paleo diet, you will consume several smaller meals at shorter intervals during the day instead of eating 3 large meals spaced several hours apart. The Paleo diet will help to curb your appetite which will help you avoid eating unhealthy between-meal snacks and still provide the nutrients and energy you need for a workout. At each meal, eat up to 8 ounces of lean red meat, pork, turkey or chicken. Seafood is also a good source of protein. Add two servings of fresh raw or lightly steamed vegetables. Think color when choosing vegetables. Select dark green vegetables, such as kale or green beans, and brightly colored vegetables, including red, yellow and green peppers. Include healthy vegetable fats from avocado, olive oil, walnuts, almonds or pecans.

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Drink plenty of water before your workout to avoid dehydration. Make sure to eat some protein and fat before your workout for energy and to provide your body with the amino acids necessary for muscle growth and repair. You can eat about 4 ounces of grilled chicken, lean beef or pork tenderloin with mixed steamed vegetables. Try a salad with kale, spinach, avocado and a handful of walnuts if you are in a hurry. Sliced roasted turkey breast and olives will also provide energy and nutrients for your workout.

For energy, protein, and fiber, eat two hard-boiled eggs or a piece of grilled chicken, one whole apple, and 1 cup of blueberries or strawberries before your workout. The fructose in the berries will give you a burst of energy you need to get through a hard workout and provide important nutrients, including antioxidants, for cell regeneration. Protein rich fruit smoothies are another way to get the nutrients and energy you need for your workout. Blend one banana, several leaves of spinach, and a handful of walnuts with ice and honey to sweeten and provide energy.

Just before your workout, you can eat a small handful of nuts, like almonds or walnuts, along with some dried fruit. Make sure the dried fruit and nuts do not contain preservatives, added flavors, colors, salt or sugar. You can mix it up with a variety of dried fruits and nuts to provide some extra calories before your workout.

Post-Workout Meals
When you engage in vigorous exercise, you will use up the nutrients stored in your body and the ones you consume prior to your workout. Your body needs additional nutrients to repair and recover after strenuous exercise. You should try to eat within 30 minutes after you finish your workout routine, and you are going to need to replenish your protein, glycogen and carbohydrate levels if you do high intensity exercise. After a strength training workout, you may need more protein to help repair and build muscle tissue.

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Try to avoid fats after your workout. Fats slow your digestion. You want to get those nutrients to your cells quickly, so focus on lean, low-fat foods. Fish, chicken, lean beef, eggs, and whey protein (grass-fed) are all good choices for protein. Avoid fatty meats along with fruits and other sweet foods after a workout. Fructose found in fruits can be metabolized only by your liver. During your workout, your energy was derived primarily from glycogen stored in your muscle tissue. After a workout, you need to restore the glycogen levels in your muscles. Starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes or yams, butternut squash and plantains will replenish your carbohydrates and glycogen stores for muscle growth and increased energy.

A delicious Paleo post-workout meal may include about 4 ounces of grilled lean beef, baked sweet potato, and green vegetables, such as broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Drink plenty of water to rehydrate your body and aid digestion, or try some coconut water to aid digestion, boost hydration, and replenish your body with essential electrolytes, such as potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium and phosphorous.

Lightly seasoned grilled fish, steamed asparagus, red potatoes and salad can provide all the protein and carbohydrates you need to recover from your workout. Choose grilled or baked fish. Avoid fried fish, especially if it has a thick batter. Remember, you don’t want to add heavy fats to your body after a workout.

If you don’t have time to sit down for a full meal after a workout, you can pre-prepare a protein shake. A protein shake can provide the post-workout nutrition your body needs. Make your own shake by blending your favorite whey protein powder with high fiber, starchy vegetables (plantains, carrots, beets), water and ice. Avoid sugary fruits as the glucose will go to your liver, not your muscles, which is exactly where it’s needed to recover and rebuild from a strenuous workout.

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About Author

Robin Reichert

I'm an AFPA certified personal trainer, AFPA certified nutrition consultant, NASM certified youth exercise specialist, online fitness coach and freelance writer specializing in health and fitness. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Science in natural health. I'm also an active member of the world's largest association for fitness and wellness professionals. See my profile page for more information!

1 Comment

  1. Great article! I am new to learning about the Paleo diet but feel more prepared to start my journey! Thanks for all the good info!

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