“What should I eat before my workout,” and “What should i eat after my workout,” are very popular questions I get. In order to really see the benefits of your hard work (training and lifting weights) you are going to want to properly fuel your body. And this does not mean just eating 2 hours before exercise and 3 hours after…there is a little bit more science behind it than that. So lets break down the guidelines to follow for pre and post workout nutrition!
There is a lot more science and research behind why “workout nutrition” is important. And this does not just mean what you are eating, but also when you are eating it. Besides just the general “gives you energy”, there are internal benefits that will help you see the results you are chasing during that time in the gym (or at home)!
Benefits of eating before your workout include:
• Increases energy
• Reduces muscle glycogen depletion
• Reduces muscle catabolism
• Increases muscle endurance
Eating before your workout doesn’t mean 1 hour before, it could even be the night before. You just want to make sure that depending on the type of workout (long distance run vs. heavy deadlifts) you change up your routine. You do not want to eat a big meal before a long run, but you do want there to be glycogen (carbohydrates) readily available. That means I would eat a carb heavy meal the night before and maybe some fast digesting carbs beforehand. If I were doing heavy deadlifts (or any weightlifting) I would eat fast digesting carbs a few hours before so that glycogen is there for a taxing workout. I will get into all these details later on in the blog.
A good workout will typically make you pretty tired, and hungry. This is because your exercise has just used all your energy (and food) to fuel your workout. This is where post workout nutrition comes into play. And no, I do not meal chugging a protein shake the second you walk out. I mean eating a planned out meal after you exercise.
Benefits of eating after your workout:
• Enhance recovery
• Decrease muscle protein breakdown (we want to keep that hard earned muscle)
• Increase protein synthesis (to refeed muscles)
• Restore glycogen stores (to repair broken down tissue)
Post workout nutrition does not need to occur 3 minutes after exercise. The time frame can range, so do what fits your schedule. It is important to eat a well rounded meal after your workout so you can increase your energy and decrease the muscle soreness. It is not necessary to ingest intra workout supplements unless you are working out for long periods of time or doing intense exercise (athletes or marathon runners). These sports involve a lot of energy and therefore they need to replenish their glycogen during exercise because it can last so long.
Now that we have talked through the benefits, let’s breakdown the guidelines…
WHAT TO EAT:
Believe it or not, WHAT you eat before your workout can make or break your progress and get you to your fitness goals faster.
When we exercise, we are using glycogen (stored carbohydrates) for energy, as well as breaking down muscle fibers (if you are doing any kind of strength training, interval training or even intense cardio). Working out in a fasted state can have its benefits, but also it’s downfalls, but I will do a full blog post on that at a later time. Before exercise we want to make sure we have enough energy to make it through out workout, and to fuel the body so we can perform at our best.
This is why we need both carbohydrates and protein before exercise. In my opinion, it is best to consume fast digesting carbs (depending on time frame before exercise) before your workout. This is because your body will break them down quickly and give you energy right away to get you through your workout, without feeling fully or heavy in your stomach. You also want to consume protein prior to your workout. This is to make sure you are feeding the muscles you are working, or breaking down, and getting all the benefits. You also want these nutrients to be quickly/easily digested so the amino acids can make their way to the bloodstream and be used by the muscles.
WHEN TO EAT:
It is important to eat before exercise because otherwise you could feel dizzy, and lightheaded, your workout might suffer from lack of energy, or you may even end up injuring yourself. But for this, timing is everything.
I understand that no everyone has the ability (or time) to eat before their workout, but pre workout nutrition can come from the night before, or hours before as well.
If you are someone who works out early in the morning and cannot stomach eating before, then eat a strategic dinner. This would include a complex carbohydrate (slow digesting), protein and healthy fats. These food sources will have time to breakdown throughout the night, but not necessarily be fully digested by the time you start your workout.
The ideal time to eat before a workout is 30-45 minutes. This is because it gives your body enough time to breakdown the food (empty your stomach) but not enough time to use it all up (if the right foods are eaten).
If you find that you cannot eat within an hour before your workout, I suggest eating a bigger meal 2-3 hours before. This ensures that you still have energy for your workout, but it still fits in with your schedule. Do not worry if you cannot time things perfectly, this is not going to make or break your progress.
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WHAT TO EAT:
What to eat post-workout is where a lot of confusion comes from. There is all sorts of information out there on the interwebs, but not all of it is accurate. And, this might not be for you either. This is what I have found to be beneficial between 1. testing it myself and 2. getting a degree in exercise science.
As stated, during exercise we deplete our glycogen stores and breakdown muscle fibers (if resistance training). Therefore, we need to replenish those.
I find that if you have enough time, a full/well-balanced meal is best. This means a slow-digesting carb to keep you full mixed with some fruit to feed glycogen stores quickly, protein to replenish your amino acids and start the recovery process, and healthy fats to keep blood sugar levels steady.
If you are in a pinch and need need a quick post-workout meal, you can always opt for a protein shake, BUT, make sure it also has some carbs in it. This is going to stimulate protein synthesis and slow the breakdown of muscle protein. But make sure you eat a well-rounded meal when you get a chance!
Remember, this also means you don’t necessarily need any other supplements if you are properly fueling before and after your workout. Check out my blog here that breaks down the popular supplements and if they are beneficial!
Some people go as far as justifying crappy foods because it is “pre or post workout”. I do agree that pizza, donuts or candy are best eaten around your workout because they COULD be more beneficial there, I don’t think it really makes a big enough difference to do it on purpose. So that means no, you don’t need to carry sour patch kids in your gym bag to eat them immediately before/after your workout!
Again, it all comes down to your schedule and what works best for you.
WHEN TO EAT:
You do not need to rush out the door and eat as soon as possible, but I also don’t recommend waiting 4 hours.
If you ate a pre-workout meal, it is likely that it is still working. Just because we had a great workout doesn’t mean we used up ALL the energy we put in before our workout.
It is recommended that you eat without 30-45 minutes after your workout to replenish glycogen stores and start rebuilding the muscle tissue. But again, this can be different for everyone.
If you walk out of your workout feeling completely drained, you may need to eat soon to get your energy levels back up..ideally a full meal. If you walk out feeling energized and invigorated, you could just have a small snack and then hold off on a full meal.
As I have said, it is all very individualized. But you should be safe eating within a 20 minute-2 hour window without any damage.
PRE-WORKOUT MEAL (night before or 2-3 hours prior):
» Protein: fish, poultry, eggs, red meat
» Carbohydrate: rice, sweet potato, oats, beans/legumes, PLUS vegetables
PRE-WORKOUT SNACK (30 minutes prior):
» Smoothie (with protein and fruit/greens)
» Rice cake/bread (with nut butter/cream cheese/meat)
» Protein bar
» Dried fruit and nuts
POST-WORKOUT MEAL (1-2 hours after):
» Protein: fish, poultry, eggs, red meat
» Carbohydrate: rice, sweet potato, oats, beans/legumes, vegetables, fruit, potatoes, grains
» Fats: oils, nuts, nut butters, avocado
POST-WORKOUT SNACK (20-30 minutes after):
» Yogurt with fruit and nuts/granola
» Protein shake (with carb source like fruit)
» Toast with nut butter
» Fruit and nuts
So next time you grab your workout clothes, shoes and headphones..don’t forget that pre/post workout nutrition! There is also a lot of information out there on performance enhancing supplements (all natural and legal of course) that can help speed up recovery and build muscle tissue. For pros and cons of fitness supplements check out my blog! For an easy and quick option for after your workout, check out Primal Kitchens Primal Fuel protein shake! It includes high quality protein, fat and carbohydrates to make for the perfect post workout option if your in a time crunch (or can’t stomach food after exercise). Click the image below to check it out!
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