Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
Providing your body with the best nutrients before training is half the battle. The other half coming from the foods we eat for recovery after a workout.
So you plan to workout later on in the day, possibly after work with the majority of the population, with no regard to how proper nutrition will fuel the workout. The common misconception of “healthy eating” results in eating like a bird, barely getting through workouts and overall feeling exhausted 24/7. Lets see if you fall into this example. Sleep in until the latest possible time to shower, grab a cup of coffee and maybe a piece of fruit or breakfast bar before rushing out the door to sit in an office all day. Lunch comes around and your stomach sounds like a hungry bear emerging out of hibernation, ravaging for food, and you opt for a salad because you want to cut calories and think a salad is a “healthy” choice. Starving again 2-3 hours later, an unhealthy snack is consumed or you push through and block out the gut wrenching hunger. Work is over around 5 and you head to the gym. You either join a group fitness class that actually kicks butt or you opt for the same old 45 minutes on the elliptical thinking the fat will just magically melt away. For some odd reason you’re barely able to get through the workout. It’s hard to feel like an Olympic athlete on just 500 calories in the last 9 waking hours.
Cue the pre-workout nutrition! Ideally breakfast and lunch should consist of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and a healthy fat source. Combining all 3 together will give your body the proper nutrients, a good source of energy, and a steady rate of digestion. It will also prime your muscles for a workout later in the day if you exercise after work. An easy way to identify complex carbohydrate sources is to find carbs without much sugar content. Examples include unflavored oatmeal, rice, potatoes, quinoa, pasta, and beans to name a few. Protein options are lean meats, eggs, fish, and protein powders. Add a little bit of healthy fat to your meal with the addition of half an avocado, a handful of nuts, or drizzle a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over the meal.
OK great, so you have morning and afternoon covered, but do you need to eat again before the exercise later? This answer is subjective to how you feel with food on your stomach before exercise, the size of the meal at lunch, and what type of exercise you will be participating in. It is recommended to consume 20-40 grams of both a complex carbohydrate source and protein about 60 minutes beforehand. Protein powders are popular choices here for the fact that liquid is more easily digested than a solid meal. Also a cup of carbohydrates is good here too; whether it is pasta, rice, potatoes, or oatmeal.
So now you’ve completed the workout and it’s now time to begin the recovery process. What does that even mean? Well if you did a high intensity workout, the main energy source used were your body’s carbohydrate sources. Our bodies rely heavily on carbohydrates for that quick energy demand of sprints or circuit training. We want to supply our muscles with the carbs we just depleted to prime ourselves for optimal recovery and the next workout. Opt for about 30-60 grams of carbohydrates and 20-40 grams of protein after a workout to help replenish muscle glycogen and promote protein synthesis. If optimal muscle gain is your top priority, aim for 1.5x bodyweight in kilograms for your carbohydrate requirements. For example, if an individual weighing 175lbs wanted to increase muscle mass, and wants to train at peak level, they would aim to consume 120 grams of carbohydrates after workout to properly compensate for the energy used during the workout.
To wrap up, it’s best to eat balanced meals throughout the day and to have a healthy snack again about an hour before workout to prep the body with enough energy for the workout. Balanced meals consist of lean protein sources, complex carbohydrate sources with low sugar content, and a healthy fat source. During the workout it’s best to consume water, a branch chain amino acid drink, or even some water with a little bit of Gatorade mix. Post workout we want to begin the recovery process with a high quality protein source and a good amount of carbohydrates to replenish what was used and get ready for the next workout.
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