The Ultimate Guide To Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
Unit 13 Nutrition Series
Workout Nutrition Explained
You probably already know that if you eat too few calories you’ll lose strength and if you eat too many you’ll gain body fat.
But did you also know that ‘when’ and ‘what’ you eat is a major factor in your training? You’ve probably read about it’s importance online or maybe came across someone who tried to sell you an overpriced meal plan that made the ‘what’ and ‘when’ seem like arduous biological science.
Fortunately, the science of knowing what and when to eat isn’t as complicated as sales people will try to make you believe. But it is very important.
Ultimately, it all boils down to calories in and calories out. But how and when you use those calories can make a massive difference.
Quality nutrition will help:
Fuel your body for maximum performance
Preserve muscle mass
Aid fat Loss
Eating before a workout gives the perfect opportunity to feed your muscles strategically. During exercise your muscles will fill with blood and become very sensitive to the nutrients you consumed. So why not take advantage of this process by giving your muscles exactly what they need to thrive?
Counting macros has become a bit of a trend in the fitness industry, but for good reason. Each macro has a specific role in your body and when eaten correctly and at the right time, can help maximise your training sessions.
Protein helps to fight off hunger and food cravings. It is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle.
Carbohydrates affect your blood sugar levels. Simple carbohydrates give you a quick burst of energy while complex carbohydrates offer lasting energy.
Fats provide slow burning fuel for longer sessions.
The nutrients you ingest will only stay in your bloodstream for a few hours so plan your pre workout meal 0-3 hours before your workout to get the maximum benefit.
3 Hours Pre Training
Consume a mixed meal with a low calorie beverage – preferably water.
The meal should consist of a fat, carb, protein and a mixture of vegetables.
The portion size will depend on various factors such as individual goals, metabolism, weight, or the duration and intensity of exercise. But the general rule to follow is:
2 Thumbs of fat
2 Cupped handfuls of carbs
2 Palms protein dense food
2 Fists of mixed vegetables
1 Thumb of fat
1 Cupped handful of carbs
1 Palm protein dense food
1 Fist of mixed vegetables
0 – 60 Minutes Pre Training
Eating a smaller meal before a workout is optional and depends on how you’re feeling on the day/ what you have already eaten that day. If you don’t feel hungry, you don’t need to eat.
If you are looking for an extra bit of sustenance, it is recommended you consume something in liquid form, such as a protein shake or smoothie.
The closer you get to a workout, the less time your body has to digest. You want to ensure that all your energy is being put towards the training instead of being split between training and digesting.
An example of a post workout smoothie is:
1 Scoop of protein powder
1 Fist full of vegetables (leafy greens work best)
1 Cupped handful of carbs (sweet potato, banana, berries)
1 Thumb of fat (avocado, flax seeds, coconut oil, nut butter)
Low calorie liquid (water, unsweetened nut milk)
Choose foods that won’t bother your stomach, for obvious reasons.
The goal here is to maintain hydration.
Generally, water should be the only thing you need throughout your workout. However, this is dependent on the type of workout, the intensity and duration, and your goals.
Similar to the pre workout rule, if you’re going to have protein it will need to be in liquid form. Protein will help prevent muscle breakdown and can therefore lead to quicker recovery. You will only need a small amount, to control the breakdown (15g per hour).
I would only recommend this if you’re either looking to make serious gains, you’re training on an empty stomach (3+ hours since your last meal), or if you’re doing long intense training sessions/have multiple sessions throughout the day.
BCAA’s are a popular low calorie option to use during a training session for everyone as they provide essential amino acids and don’t require any digesting.
Carbs are good for providing an immediate fuel source, boosting performance and improving recovery. Again, liquid form is best. Consume a mixture of glucose, fructose and maltodextrin as these use different transport mechanisms.
I would only recommend this for long intense sessions, marathons, anyone on a high calorie diet looking to gain serious muscle mass or highly active individuals who struggle to get enough calories.
Note: Fats should be avoided during exercise as they are difficult to digest. They delay gastric emptying, which is not something you want during training.
Getting the right nutrition after your workout is essential. If you fail to refuel your body with appropriate nutrition, your performance in your next session will suffer, your gains won’t be as good and you could even lose muscle mass.
Always choose real foods that have a blend of macros, micros and phytonutrients. The goal is to help you:
Improve Future Performance
If you trained on an empty stomach or only had something small pre workout, you should eat straight after your workout, or at the very latest one hour after your session. Simple carbs are best straight after a workout, as they are easy to digest and elicit an insulin response to build muscle and prevent soreness.
There may be times when you might not feel hungry after your workout. If this is the case have a smoothie or any kind of liquid nutrition.
The best post workout shakes contain a 2:1 ratio of carbs-to-protein when gaining weight or 1:1 when reducing fat, e.g. protein powder of choice with a banana and nut milk/water.
The fat in milk can delay the digestion process, which isn’t ideal post workout. You want the protein and carbs to be digested very quickly so they can go to where they are needed, so avoid fat. This means no flaxseed, nut butter, chia seed etc.
Your post workout meal follows the same rules and portion sizes of your pre workout meal. The most important macro to consume post workout is protein, in order to prevent protein breakdown and stimulate protein synthesis.
Carbs are good to maintain and restore liver glycogen, which will help protein synthesis. Choose a minimally processed, wholefood option with a small amount of fruit.
It is recommended to eat within two hours post training to avoid slowing recovery. How much you need to eat will depend on what you ate throughout the day. Always be mindful of your daily intake.
At the end of the day, the people who benefit most from meal timing are athletes. So if you’re only really looking to loose a few pounds, your main focus will be on energy balance (calories in and out).
However, these tips will help you to improve your performance in the gym and who doesn’t want to be able to last a bit longer or lift a bit more?
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