Your total daily calorie and nutrient intake, along with getting those nutrients from mostly higher quality sources, is always the most important part of every single diet plan regardless of what your goal is. Once you ensure you’re getting all of your totals right for the day, the meals directly surrounding your workouts are next in line in terms of the amount of impact and influence it has on the results you get.

Fueling your body before and after a strenuous exercise is important for minimizing soreness and fatigue, playing a key role in energizing your muscles. After a long high-intensity cardio your body’s stored energy is depleted and your muscles need to replenish lost glycogen as soon as possible. Choosing the right combination of protein and carbohydrate is crucial.

In order to maximize energy and calorie burning potential in a workout session, it is always recommended to eat something prior to physical activity. Skipping meals altogether is a big mistake. Many think that to burn calories or lose tummy fat they should workout with an empty stomach, but blood glucose drops when you are fasting, so the body uses its reserve fat as fuel, but this does not mean you are actually burning fat. Burning fat is more about overall calorie expenditure and not just about the type of energy your body is using up for a physical activity. The undermining issue is that one cannot perform well at the gym for a reasonably long period. Therefore, one will end up burning fewer calories than planned for.

Eating before a workout has its own benefits, besides boosting recovery and strength. It will help you sustain for long hours and for an intense workout. If you had a light snack before any physical activity, the blood glucose level won’t hit bottom and make you dizzy. At the same time, if you have eaten a relatively big meal, make sure to give enough time for digestion before you hit the gym. The larger the portion of the meal, the more the time you will need before the workout.

The timing of your post-workout meal is critical for proper recovery. In a 2001 study conducted by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, researchers found that ingesting protein and carbohydrates an hour after workout was superior for protein synthesis, or the muscle growth process within cells, and muscle recovery rather than consuming carbohydrates three hours later.

Pre and Post Workout Meal Plan Each genre of workout may demand a different approach of meal before and afterward to help maintain energy and to maximize the results.

Pre-workout meal means grabbing a snack about 30-60 minutes prior to exercise, whereas, post-workout meal is an hour after.

Yoga and Stretching. Though yoga and stretching could be stressful for some of us, it is still considered low impact exercise. Choose fibrous foods like apple, pears, pineapple, berries before your activity. While your body is still burning calories, afterward, replenish with water and plan for healthy meal like whole wheat chappathi wrapped with paneer or black eye beans.

Cardio Workout. Before you hit the studio, you need energy, but not too heavy a meal. Start with an Indian trail mix, dry fruits and nuts (bananas slices, peaches, coconut pieces, dates, raisins, candied sugar, walnuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds).  Following your exercise, opt for palak paneer or grilled fish. Maintain a low fat diet for high metabolism.

Strength Training. Prior to strength training, eat a protein-carbohydrate rich diet. After training, choose complex carbohydrates like brown rice with vegetable subzi (stir-fried vegetables), or whole wheat phulka with dal tadka and avoid simple starches like potatoes and white rice.

Vegetarian’s Choice. Pre and post workout snacks usually compromise on vegetarian ingredients. This leaves vegetarians with fewer options to boost performance. Some of the best vegetarian snack ideas include banana-walnut smoothie, toasted brown bread with fresh cream, Punjabi lassi (with palm sugar), South Indian sundal (tempered legumes), sprouted mung bean salad, paneer tikka (grilled), whole wheat roti with dal are all some of the power packed, smart choices to have soon after a hard day at the gym.

Stay Hydrated. Exercise often causes dehydration, which hinders muscle recovery. According to research reported in the 1996 issue of “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,” athletes should drink about 17 oz of fluid every two hours during and after exercise until they are adequately hydrated. Prepare your own liquid electrolytes, like honey based lemonade, ginger-mint juice, water melon juice, salted buttermilk, tender coconut water and whey. The next time you make home-made paneer (Indian cottage cheese), do not throw away the whey. It is rich in liquid milk serum, lots of albumin and globulin proteins are still present in it. In fact milk serum or whey is often sold as a nutritional supplement in many health care industries. It’s quite popular among body builders. It’s one of best post-workout drink, helps the aching muscles to relax and tone.

Liquid Diet Lovers. In order to nourish yourself after an intense workout, your meal itself can be something with lot of fluids, like finger millet gruel (ragi koozh), mixed beans pottage (Indian chili), cracked wheat porridge, lentils and spinach soup, barley and chicken broth, red rice kanji, health mix kheer, ragi malt, greens broth and mixed vegetables juice.

Malar Gandhi is a freelance writer, who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking. She blogs about Indian food at and can be reached

Medical disclaimer: This article is provided for educational and informational purposes only and the information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. Please consult with your doctor, licensed physician or other qualified health provider for personal medical advice and medical conditions.