Have you started an exercise routine to help improve your blood sugar levels, but aren’t sure what to eat before and after your workout?
Don’t worry! I have you covered. Read on to discover the best pre- and post-workout foods that can help manage blood glucose levels when eaten as part of an overall healthy diet. These foods can fuel your body for maximum performance as well as support an overall healthy eating plan and weight management goals – all of which can help delay the development of type 2 diabetes.
This post has been sponsored by Fresh Avocados – Love One Today. As always, all opinions are my own.
Exercise & reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes
Exercise is an important part of reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes as regular physical activity can help to improve insulin sensitivity and body composition. However, how you fuel your body before and after your workout can also play a large role in blood sugar management.
Properly fueling your body before a workout can help to manage low blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia, during exercise while also ensuring you have enough fuel to get through a tough workout.
After exercise, how you choose to refuel your body can have a large impact on glucose levels for the remainder of the day.
Regular exercise should be a priority when it comes to reducing type 2 diabetes risk, but it is just as essential to understand the role healthy eating, including pre and post-workout foods have as well.
The best blood-sugar-friendly foods to fuel your workout
When it comes to fueling your body before a workout, you want to think about two things: providing your body with consistent energy throughout the day and consuming a readily available source of fuel shortly before exercise.
When it comes to steady energy throughout the day, keep this formula in mind:
slow-digested, complex carbohydrates (foods with fiber) + protein + good fats
This combination of nutrients helps to slow how quickly carbohydrates are converted into sugar, slowing down the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
For example, a slice of white flour toast would provide only carbohydrates, leading to spikes and crashes in blood sugar and energy. However, if you paired a slice of whole grain toast (fiber) with sliced avocado (good fats and fiber) and a scrambled egg (protein), you now have a balanced meal that will promote steady energy levels for hours.
To maximize your efforts at reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, add foods to your plate that are rich in nutrients that have been associated with a reduced risk of the disease.
For instance, one study of 4,704 young adults (aged 18-30) who were followed for 30 years found that intake of dietary folate was associated with a reduced incidence of diabetes. Another study of 2,719 men and women reported higher intake of vitamin K was associated with greater insulin sensitivity and glycemic status (measured by a 2-hr oral glucose tolerance test).
In the latter study, there was no association between vitamin K intake and fasting insulin, fasting glucose, HOMA-IR (a measurement of insulin resistance) or HbA1c.
These studies don’t prove cause and effect, and more research is needed to confirm these associations, but they certainly support the recommendation to consume higher intakes of fruits and vegetables to build healthy dietary patterns.
One serving of fresh avocado provides a good source of both folate and vitamin K as well as good, unsaturated fats and a good source of fiber. When doing studies, researchers try to adjust for several factors but it’s possible that the intakes of vitamin K and folate are a proxy for a healthy diet which we know can support diabetes outcomes and risk reduction.
Fueling directly before your workout is also essential. Within 30 to 60 minutes before exercise, consume a source of slowly digested, complex carbohydrates to provide steady energy. Protein and fat intake should be limited to smaller quantities right before exercise since these nutrients are digested slower and may lead to cramping or discomfort if consumed in large amounts before rigorous physical activity.
Good options for pre-workout snacks include:
- Fruit: Fruit provides carbohydrates, including fiber, for balanced blood sugar and steady energy levels.
- Whole grain crackers: Whole grain crackers are a source of complex carbohydrates, which provide sustained energy for your workout.
- Homemade trail mix: Homemade trail mix has protein, good fats, and fiber, which can help you feel full and satisfied before your workout while promoting sustained energy. Mix together whole grain cereal, no-sugar-added dried fruit, and a handful of nuts or seeds for the best pre-workout combination.
- Lowfat yogurt: Yogurt is a good source of protein and calcium, which are important for muscle health, while also providing slow-digested carbohydrates for energy.
- Smoothie: Smoothies are a good way to get a quick and easy dose of slow-digested carbohydrates. You can opt for fruit smoothies alone or add in Greek yogurt to boost the protein or fresh avocado to boost the good fat content (fun fact: avocados are virtually the only fruit with good fats).
The best blood-sugar-friendly foods to eat post-workout
After a workout, your body needs to replenish its glycogen stores (the glucose that is stored in our body and used during a workout) and repair muscle tissue. Eating the right foods can help you recover and manage blood sugar levels.
Here are some of the best blood-sugar-friendly foods to eat post-workout:
- Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are lower in calories and nutrient-dense, making them a great choice for post-workout recovery. They also have fiber, which can help you feel full and keep blood sugar levels in target ranges.
- Lean protein: Lean protein, such as chicken, fish, or tofu, can help your body repair muscle tissue after a workout.
- Whole grains: Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, or whole-wheat bread, are a good source of complex carbohydrates, which provide sustained energy for your body. They also provide fiber, which can help you feel full and manage blood sugar levels.
- Good fats: Good, unsaturated fats, such as those found in fresh avocados, nuts, and seeds, can help you feel full and satisfied after a workout. They are also a source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Of note, avocado especially is a great post-workout snack as the combination of fiber and good fats can help reduce post-exercise hunger while promoting healthy blood sugar levels. One study of 26 people found that adding one-half of an avocado to lunch improved satisfaction and reduced the desire to eat after the meal while also providing a lower immediate rise in insulin levels than when the same lunch was eaten without the avocado. However, there was no significant difference in insulin levels over three hours after the meal. The Avocado Nutrition Center supported this study, and while the conclusions cannot be applied to the general public due to the small size of the study, the results support a growing body of science, supporting the avocado’s role in glucose regulation.
The bottom line on pre and post-workout foods to help manage type 2 diabetes risk
Both diet and physical activity play a large role in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. By eating the right balance of foods before and after workouts, you can make sure you’re fueled, help your body recover and manage blood sugar levels.
When selecting your pre- and post-workout foods, consider the following guidelines:
- Before a workout: Choose foods with complex carbohydrates and fiber. These foods will provide sustained energy for your workout. Good choices include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- After a workout: Choose foods with protein, and complex carbs, and good fats. The protein and carbs will help your body repair muscle tissue and replenish glycogen stores, respectively. Good fats help you feel full and satisfied. Good protein choices include chicken and fish and good fat choices include avocado, nuts, and seeds.
Avocados are a great choice for both pre- and post-workout foods as they contain zero grams of naturally occurring sugar per serving and do not affect the glycemic response. In addition, avocado provides good fats, a good source of fiber, and beneficial nutrients such as folate and vitamin K which have been associated with outcomes related to type 2 diabetes management and support an overall healthy diet.
To further reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes:
- Get regular exercise: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
- Manage stress: Stress can contribute to high blood sugar levels. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, or spending time with loved ones.
- Prioritize sleep: Quality rest each night can help to reduce insulin resistance while promoting a healthy body weight and reducing food cravings.