The age old question remains: “What should I be eating before and after my workout?!”
The answer is relatively simple but easily confused. The truth is, there is a host of contradictive information out there and it’s hard to know if we are doing the right thing. Let’s break down what our bodies need and when they need it.
Pre-workout nutrition is all about fueling the body. Just like a car can’t run without gas, our bodies don’t perform well without some energy of their own. That said, caloric needs before a workout depend on when your workout takes place in your day and what has already been consumed.
For instance, if you work out first thing in the morning, you are going to need to make sure you fuel yourself adequately to get your internal engine going. If you are working out mid-day (after lunch, let’s say), your needs are going to be lessened since there is already some fuel in the tank to be used.
The key is ensuring that your body has the macronutrients it needs to make it through a workout and sustain energy levels. The body needs a combination of protein, fat and carbohydrate for an effective workout.
Carbohydrates are the body’s easiest and most efficient source of quick, fast-acting energy.
It would be advantageous to choose a carbohydrate source that is high in fiber in order to keep blood sugar levels stable. A great option would be whole oats.
Protein is equally imperative as it ensure that our body does not break down our own muscle for fuel after it has burned through the available carbohydrates. Sscrambled egg is a great protein option Lastly, the longest lasting energy source, is fat. We need fat to keep our energy levels high and our blood sugar stable for the duration of our workout. A great choice would be avocado.
Let’s put it together. A great pre-workout meal for those that hit the gym first thing in the morning is: whole oats alongside a scrambled egg topped with avocado. This meal would ensure that your body receives the perfect blend of quick and long-lasting energy sources.
A great pre-workout snack option would be a string cheese and an apple. The rule of thumb is to eat a meal or snack 1-2 hours prior to a workout.
Post-work out nutrition is all about repairing, recovering and replenishing the body. Ideally, you should consume a post-workout meal within 1 hour of finishing your workout. This hour is sometimes referred to as the “golden window” or the “golden hour”.
This window of time is when our bodies are at their maximum energy-expending functionality. Essentially, we are fat burning machines! The biggest mistake you could make would be to not give your body what it is begging you for during this time period. If you fail to replenish energy stores, your body will tap into what is readily available.
First, it will tackle any glycogen stores in the liver, thus plummeting blood sugar levels. You will experience a blood sugar dip that you may or may not actually feel. But the repercussions will be negative for the body. Then your body will tackle any readily available muscle mass for energy. This is particularly undesirable, as our main goal is to lose fat and gain (keep) muscle mass.
Finally, if the body is still starving for some calories, it will tap into fat stores. Note that a considerable amount of damage is done to stores in the body before it ever turns to fat-burning as an option. This is why excessive food-restriction or withholding of calories long-term does not work for weight loss.
That said, the proper way to refuel is with a combination of long-lasting carbohydrates (complex and full of fiber) and lean protein. We don’t really need fat here. That’s because we are focusing on replenishing the glucose (carbohydrate) stores that we lost during our work out and preventing any breakdown of muscle mass.
An excellent choice for a post-workout meal would be a chicken breast and brown rice. Brown rice is loaded with fiber that will work in tandem with the protein in the chicken to stabilize your blood sugar levels. Also, they prevent any destruction of muscle. Adding vegetables to this post-work out meal would be perfectly fine, as they will only add to your fiber intake. Also,they further stabilize your blood sugar.
In conclusion, fueling our bodies before and after a workout is actually pretty simple. We just have to remember the key rules:
Post-Workout: Repair, Recover, Replenish
With those tools, your efforts in the gym will absolutely pay off. Your body will thank you for providing it what it truly needs to reap the benefits of your hard work.
Now, go tackle that workout! J