Pre & Post-Workout nutrition is all about fuelling and re-fuelling, making sure that your body has the right tools before a workout, and then replenishing them afterwards for the best chance at optimal results.
Regardless of your lifestyle, whether you’re a gym-goer or a competitive athlete, fats, carbs and protein; otherwise known as macronutrients are essential for optimising nutrition and performance.
Day to day, we need to be thinking about our macronutrient intake, making sure to have all three covered so that we’re fuelled with the three essential building blocks of nutrition. The quantities of these and how they affect us varies depending on our body type, our genetic makeup, the type of training we do, our lifestyle and work schedule and so on. Therefore we must remember that what will work for one person may not work as successfully for another. That being said; all three macronutrients are vital for optimum nutrition and therefore should form the foundation of your pre and post workout meals.
When considering what to eat before and after training, you should consider what your body needs to perform and then what it will need to restore. If you’re a healthy person who exercises regularly, balanced meals before and within 1-2 hours post exercise are likely enough to meet your nutrition needs without any special strategies. Keep both meals well-considered with sources of all three macronutrients.
Before your workout, you’re going to need some readily available burnable energy. That’s where carbs come in. These are a primary source of fuel for the body, so getting some of these in 30-60 minutes before a workout will ensure that energy sources are ready to go. Although, if you’re eating within that window, keep it small! Allow yourself 2-4 hours before hitting the gym after a big meal!
Tip: Opt for Low GI carbs to avoid a huge spike to your blood sugar levels- porridge is a great option for pre-workout fuel, releasing energy over a longer period of time with a lesser effect on your blood sugar, fuelling you for even the longer, more gruelling endurance workouts. For the best effects, consume 30-60 minutes before a strength-training or cardio workout. Even better, add some nuts for a dose of healthy fats which allow for nutrient absorption.
Getting protein into your pre-workout is also a good plan for giving your body the tools it needs for muscle repair and growth. The amount of protein you’ll need depends on your bodyweight, your gender, the length of the workout and it’s intensity level- but for the average healthy person, eating a portion of wholefoods rich in protein before a workout will ensure your body has adequate reserves.
Tip: Try an egg-white omelette with spinach and wholegrain toast- this covers both your Low GI carb and wholefood protein sources. If you’re going for this one, allow 1-2 hours before training to give your body time to absorb the protein. You can always add a small snack if you get hungry before the workout- my favourite is Greek yoghurt, banana, walnuts and honey for a quick energy boost! Also, this power snack covers all three macronutrients so is a great pre-workout option!
Post workout, we must think about replenishing the resources we used during training. Again, this differs greatly depending on the type of training you do, the length of the workout and how intense it was and so on; this is something to consider when choosing your post-workout meal.
At its most basic; post-workout nutrition tries to accomplish three main things:
- Replenishing energy stores
- Decreasing protein breakdown
- Increasing protein synthesis, in other words building muscle and repairing any damage done in the workout.
When utilised as a performance strategy, the food we eat after a workout can dramatically increase the rate of recovery and performance; so if you’re working hard at optimising your performance or the volume of training you’re doing, start with looking at your lifestyle and nutrition. Once again, this is about getting optimal quantities of all three macros into your diet, the balance of which totally depends on the individual but nonetheless the presence of each are important for a healthy and efficient functioning body.
Tip: As a healthy person who exercises regularly, studies show that 10-20g of good quality protein after training is more than sufficient to meet your nutritional needs and body’s demands to repair.
Regardless of the level you’re training at, energy stores need to be replenished. Ideally, your post-workout meal will encompass all three macros to cover all bases and should be consumed within 1-2 hours post workout. It’s always better to stick with wholefoods rather than chemically manufactured foods or supplements, (such as high protein bars and shakes) because they offer complete nutrition and contain vital micronutrients.
Tip: Try a spinach and chicken salad followed by a sliced apple with peanut butter. All three macros covered with a good dose of micronutrients!
That being said, not everyone has access to wholefoods within that window and sometimes a shake can be a quick fix. If you prefer a shake after your workout, stick to plant-based powders- that way you know that it’s coming from a wholefood source and likely contains beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Tip: When buying protein supplements, read the ingredients! A lot of brands cleverly hide the amount of sugar in products by giving them other names such as sucrose and fructose, packing in tons of sugars and having a horrible effect on our blood sugar levels.
We’ve covered food, but let’s not forget the most crucial component to not only our performance but our lifestyle and overall health and wellbeing- hydration. Ensuring sufficient hydration is paramount to our body functioning efficiently and effectively, therefore it’s recommended that we should consume 2 litres of water per day, even more with exercise and more again with rigorous training. It’s easy to forget to keep drinking water, so the best advice I have is to adopt a sipping technique. Carry a water bottle around with you, drinking slowly and steadily throughout the day to stay hydrated. Set targets for how many times you’re going to drink and refill that day. Keep tabs though, too much water isn’t good either, so keep listening to your body and acknowledge how you feel and last but not least- make good and informed choices!
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