Pre-workout is just as important as post-workout nutrition. Eating before you head to train will provide fuel for your body to sustain energy levels through your entire workout. The body is a catabolic environment, meaning it breaks down molecules to release energy, so a small meal before training prevents the body from using muscle tissue for energy. Some individuals feel nauseous while working out on an empty stomach, so eating before training can prevent this. So now that we know why to eat before training, it is time to discuss when to eat. Depending on the activity, the time of day when you train, and the serving size and the content of the meal, it is best that a pre-workout meal be eaten 30-90 minutes in advance. But what the heck should you eat?
Different foods digest at different rates, for example dietary fats take around 6-8 hours for the body to digest, protein takes about 3-4 hours, and carbohydrates take 2-3 hours (depending on the source of the carb). To choose the right pre-workout meal, try to keep the fat content low because they take the longest to digest. Try keeping the amount of carbohydrate (low-glycemic, which slowly release into the blood system) at a moderate level to help fill your glycogen stores while you push through your workout. Keep the amount of protein at a moderate level (anywhere from 3-8 ounces depending on the individual) because they contain BCAA (branch chain amino acids) which helps increase the rate of protein synthesis and decrease the rate of protein breakdown during your workout.
Again, how much you eat is an individual preference and you should experiment to find what works best for you. In general if you are fueling up for an intense activity, you should add more carbohydrates. If you are interested in muscle building, a larger meal might be beneficial with extra protein. Some examples of pre-workout meals include:
Oatmeal with whey protein mixed in (delicious and can be made into a protein pancake)
Greek yogurt with a sliced up banana
Chicken with brown rice and asparagus
Piece of whole wheat toast with a slice of low-fat cheese and hardboiled egg white
Brown rice cake sandwich with low-fat cream cheese or sugar-free strawberry jam
½ cup low-fat cottage cheese with 1 cup mixed berries
Now that you are fueled before and during your workout, what would be the best thing to eat post workout? There are several ideas behind post-workout nutrition but it is agreed upon that eating something is better than nothing. When it comes to post-workout meal timing, research suggests it is best to eat within 30 minutes (and up to 60 minutes) of completing your training session. When you train, you cause microscopic tears in the muscle fibers and if there is not adequate supplied before/during/after, it can cause further muscle breakdown which in turn is used to repair the muscles. After you train, the nutrients support increased protein synthesis to rebuild the muscle and eating has been shown to improve recovery and reduce muscle soreness.
When it comes to choosing a post-workout meal, you will want to consider the digestion rate of foods. Fats take a long time so you will want to keep your meal low in fat. Protein (in meat form) also takes a longer time to digest compared to a whey protein powder which can take 20-30 minutes to hit the bloodstream. When choosing carbohydrates for post-workout, you will want to choose a fast digesting carbohydrate to maximize the insulin effect from training and replenish the glycogen stores. Post-workout meal ideas include:
An 8 oz glass of low-fat Chocolate milk
Chicken and sweet potatoes with veggies
Smoothie made from greek yogurt, whey protein powder and juice
Whey protein with handful of dried fruit
The above guidelines are just that, guidelines. It is important to figure out what works best for you and to take in to account what your fitness goals include.
Now get out there and train hard y'all!