This Is What You Should Be Eating Before (& After) A Workout

Photo: Courtesy of Misty Copeland.
A few years ago, I went through a phase where I became obsessed with racing in triathlons. I completed about six races in all, including three half-Ironmans (a race that totals 70.3 miles). My major takeaway from that crazy, fun, empowering, but incredibly time-consuming experience was just how essential nutrition is for performance. In fact, at one point, I got so overwhelmed and tired of working out all the time (I started crying in Central Park in the middle of a bike ride out of sheer frustration and boredom), that I decided to ease back on exercise and just focus on nailing my nutrition for my last half-Ironman. I expected that this plan would totally blow up in my face, but instead I beat my time goal by three minutes on a very hilly course (a three-minute gain in racing world is huge). I also felt amazing the whole race — strong, clear-minded, focused, and positive. That is the power of good food and balanced nutrition.

All athletes (even prima ballerinas!) have to eat before a big race, game, or performance. But what are their eating routines? What does Misty Copeland eat before she goes out on stage to dance the Black Swan? What does Gabby Douglas eat before she has to bounce and bend all over the gymnastics floor to win gold? What do these athletes eat after a big event, to recover and prepare for the next challenge ahead? Read on to find out.

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Photo: Courtesy of Michaela Deprince.
Michaela DePrince, Ballerina

"The public tends to think that ballerinas are waif-like fairies that survive on floral-scented breezes. To expect a ballerina to survive on air while rehearsing and then performing a full-scale ballet is like expecting a marathon runner to survive on air. Though ballet is an art and ballerinas are artists, they are also athletes. I am not shy about admitting that my favorite foods are pasta and omelets (though not together).

"Though it’s hard to dance on a stomach filled with lasagna, I still need to eat. I make sure that my pre-performance meal is a small one but high in protein and carbs... I actually eat small snacks of nuts and fruit before and during performances. Apples dipped in peanut butter are great, too. If I try to eat a full-course dinner, I won’t have the flexibility to bend in the seemingly impossible positions required... However, on the days preceding my performance, I eat my normal, healthy meals, which contain rice, pasta, meats, vegetables, and fruits. And I always eat a meal after performing, or I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

"My favorite meals that I cook at home are rice dishes with meat and vegetables all mixed up into a sort of paella. I also enjoy cooking omelets with cheese and chopped vegetables."
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Photographed by Steve Baccon.
Sally Fitzgibbons, Surfer

"It is always hard to get exactly what you want when it comes to foods, before and after competing, as we are moving around to so many different countries and cultures. Over my seven years on the World Surfing Tour, I have learned to become very flexible. I have adjusted my mindset and mental approach, so food is not viewed with any negativity.

"The night before competing, I will eat chicken or fish and a variety of vegetables, [depending] on the country I'm in... I am always open to trying some of the local produce I don't have at home. I look for what's in season and what their produce specialities are. The morning of my event, I will eat eggs with avocado...on rye toast and then snack on a variety of fruit and nuts depending on when I will compete in the day.

"I have a half of a banana 20 minutes before I paddle out. Straight after competing, I'll have the other half of my banana with the rest of my nuts and snacks I have at the beach, and plenty of water to stay hydrated. Once I'm back to the house, I'll make some sort of meat with a variety of baked vegetables. I love baked sweet potato, pumpkin, and capsicum."
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Photographed by:Gregg Delman.
Misty Copeland, Ballerina

"24 hours pre-performance, I'll have something hearty: a veggie burger and salad, whole-wheat pasta with shrimp, or sushi and a salad. After a performance, I'll enjoy grilled salmon, roasted onions, carrots, and butternut squash with rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper, and a glass of Prosecco for dinner. And a peanut butter cookie for dessert!"
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Photo: Courtesy of Mikaela Shiffrin.
Mikaela Shiffrin, Skier

"Nutrition is one of the most important parts of sport; you can be fit and mentally ready, but if you don't fuel up properly, you’re just putting limits on yourself. I’ve noticed lately that there are a lot of 'zero-carb' diets going around... While I think it is awesome that more and more people are trying to be aware of what they’re eating...I believe carbs are essential for athletes.

"Once of my main sponsors is Barilla, the pasta company, and that’s no coincidence. I eat pasta five days per week at least, and it is my go-to meal before races. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not loading up on a giant, 2000-calorie bowl of spaghetti. Everything in moderation. I like to have something like a light pasta, chicken, and salad or cooked veggies. It’s delicious, easy to digest, and gives me quick energy and long-term energy for those long, dragged-out race days.

"I tend to have a similar meal after my races, because it’s also great for recovery. Sometimes I have a stomach ache after a race, from the nerves nagging at me throughout the day, and the only thing I’m in the mood to eat is some pasta with olive oil drizzled on it!"
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Photo: Courtesy of Martin Rusch.
Ana Ivanovic, Tennis Player

"I don’t follow a specific diet, but rather I am aware of the quality and quantities of the food that I have. I believe that a well-balanced and nutritious diet — as well as having everything in moderation — is often the best solution. My meals before and after matches tend to be very similar.

"For breakfast, I would have oatmeal with water, nuts, and berries. Not only it is a light and fresh way to start the day, but more importantly, it releases the energy slowly throughout the morning and into afternoon. For lunch and dinner, I eat a lot of fish, rice, and vegetables, especially around matches: lean proteins and not so much saturated fat, which would be hard to digest.

"When possible, I choose gluten-free foods because I feel that it helps my digestion. But I don’t follow this religiously; it’s just a preference. I am also a big sushi lover. Fresh, healthy, and colorful: my perfect type of food."
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Photo: Courtesy of Gabby Douglas.
Gabby Douglas, Gymnast

"With all the flipping, bouncing, and running that I have do, I have a very strict eating schedule that I have to follow. My usual breakfast is either an egg-white sandwich with whole-grain bread, or hot wheat cereal. For lunch, I generally have lean chicken or turkey. I also love lots of green veggies, like broccoli or brussels sprouts and fresh fruits. When I get home from training, I snack on almonds and frozen grapes. I enjoy having pasta and lean red meat with more veggies for dinner.

"Before a competition, my breakfast consists of steel-cut oatmeal. I have salmon and a steamed vegetable medley for lunch. My competitions are usually in the evening, so after I'm done competing, it's really late. I don't like to eat anything heavy afterwards and prefer something light like chicken noodle soup. I also like to splurge occasionally and have frozen yogurt for dessert."
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Photo: Courtesy Of
Maia & Alex Shibutani, Figure Skaters

"We travel all around the world to go to competitions. No matter how much we train and prepare, there are a lot of variables that inevitably heighten the pressure of a competitive environment. After a long flight to somewhere in Europe or Asia, we have to be ready to perform at a high level for two days of practice and two days of competition. When we are dealing with jet lag, being in a different country, and skating at a different rink, it is important to keep as many things as familiar as possible. While it can be challenging to make room in our suitcases, we always pack food. Packing snacks gives us flexibility, so we don't have to depend only on the meals provided at the competition. We can also snack before we compete, just like we do at home.

"While it can be tempting to try various local cuisines, we leave being adventurous for after the competition. Typically, while we compete, we have dried fruit and oatmeal for breakfast. Kashi Bars are great for any time of day. Our two favorites are the Chocolate Chip Chia and Honey Oat Flax Crunchy Granola & Seed Bars. Recently we started bringing dried chickpeas with us. They are a great source of protein, and the company, The Good Bean, has a variety of flavors. For fluids, we bring coconut water. Immediately after performing, we snack on another Kashi bar, have a banana to help prevent muscle cramping, or drink some chocolate milk. Chocolate milk is a great way to assist with muscle recovery, and it tastes like a treat. Once we're finished with a competition, we try to go out, explore, and have a good meal with our friends and family."
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Photo: REX USA.
Natalie Coughlin, Swimmer

"It really depends on where I am. I like to have something with a bit of carbs, healthy fats, and protein before and after my race. At Pan Ams I would have a huge salad with chicken breast, avocado, seeds/nuts, and some sort of hearty grain (like farro) for lunch. Post-race (immediately after) I usually have a shake that has approximately 200-300 calories, with 15-20 grams of protein and a little fat."
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