What to eat before & after exercise
It's best to eat a well-balanced meal (protein, complex carbohydrates, and fats) about 2-3 hours before exercise. This is definitely not the place to chow down on sugary items because your blood sugar will overcorrect and plummet just before or even during exercise and your workout won't be the greatest. Eating something like 1-2 pieces of whole grain toast with mashed avocado and egg on them or rolled oats prepared with almond milk, nuts/seeds, and some fruit are both well balance meals and will keep your energy sustained through your workout. Everyone is different in how their digestion works, but this will usually allow the meal to be fully digested before starting exercise, decreasing the chance for digestive upset due to undigested food in the gastrointestinal tract. If this is too long before exercise for a meal, you can also include a quick, small snack such as a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts in the hour before exercise to hold you over. You know your body the best, though. If you know something doesn't sit well in your stomach, don't include it in your pre-workout regimen.
Because we make little micro-tears in our muscle during exercise and deplete the muscle of some or all of its stored glucose (muscle glycogen), we need to refuel our muscles after exercise. Eating a meal or snack with protein and carbohydrates within 30-60 minutes of exercise will optimize the rate at which proteins and glycogen are taken back up into the muscle. If you wait longer than an hour after exercise to eat, you should still replenish your stores with protein and carbohydrates, but your muscles might not recover as quick as they would with a meal consumed soon after exercise. So it's best to eat as quickly as possible after exercising. Plain yogurt (2% or whole milk yogurt) with berries and cinnamon is one of my favorite post-workout meals. A fruit and greens smoothie with yogurt or protein powder as the protein base is also a nutritious post-workout snack, as is 1-2 slices of toast with natural peanut/almond butter and a little bit of honey.
What about Hydration?
Don't forget to hydrate! Sweating during exercise which depletes our body of water, which is vital for proper functioning. Just think about a car without gas in the tank - it doesn't really run right without it. That's the same for your body without water. And being made of about 60-70% water, we need to be constantly hydrating. Drink liberally during exercise and continue to drink on a schedule following exercise.
Do I need to supplement?
For most people, popular exercise enhancing supplements aren't necessary - you can typically can get everything you need from food. But it is okay if you enjoy a smoothie before or after exercise and want to use protein powder as your protein base. Where most people go wrong is thinking that protein is the only thing they need to recover from a workout and go overboard on it. Just use caution when buying supplements - they aren't regulated for safety by the FDA like food is. Buying a protein powder that is plant based (pea, brown rice, quinoa) is a good idea, and look for one with minimal ingredients and additives, preferably containing the USDA Organic and/or Non-GMO Project Verified seals is best.