When it comes to nutrition surrounding workouts there tends to be a lot of confusion; should you eat high fat or low fat? High carb or low carb? Before or during? Protein only or complete meal? The questions are endless. I felt the need to break down pre, during and post exercise nutrition into simple strategies that you can implement, along with the reasoning behind them. Below you will find general nutrition protocols surrounding various types of exercise. Enjoy and please be sure to leave any questions in the comments section!
The first question we need to answer concerning pre-workout nutrition is what kind of exercise are you doing? Are you doing more of an endurance-based exercise (running, spinning, boxing) or a strength-based exercise (bodybuilding/powerlifting)?
We will start with the nutrient that is common between both types of exercise and that is: protein. Pre-workout you want to ensure you are getting adequate protein, being that it serves as the building block to muscle and promotes lean body mass retention. The general recommendation is that you get a good serving of protein of 15 - 50g, based on body size, within 2 hours before a workout.
The next pre-workout nutrient of concern is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates serve as the body's main energy source during most types of exercise. If you are doing a more endurance-based workout you may need slightly more carbohydrates than if you are doing a strength/hypertrophy based workout. Your pre-workout meal should contain moderate carbs to fuel performance. For an average-sized individual this could consist of 2 slices of bread or 3/4 cup of rice.
Last but not least is fat. Fat also supplies the body with energy, particularly in long distance endurance-based training. While it is not beneficial to eat a high fat meal pre-workout, we do want to eat some fat before working out. Depending on body size and needs, this could be anywhere from 5-15g to give a rough estimate. Eating a high fat meal before working out may not be optimal, being that fat is slower digesting than carbs and protein, which could leave you feeling full during your workout.
Takeaways: Lower fat, moderate carb, moderate protein for most people
During or intra-workout nutrition is still an area where research needs to be done. For most people eating or drinking something during a workout is not necessary. When intra-workout nutrition becomes important is in events lasting over 1-1.5hrs. This is the point at which the body's energy stores may become depleted. A big factor here is again, what kind of training you are doing. If your training is endurance-based an lasting over an hour you may benefit from a sport drink such as gatorade. If you are following more of a strength-based workout, intra-workout nutrition is not that relevant for most people. There are cases such as preparing for a physique competition in which consuming BCAA's intra-workout may be beneficial to retain muscle mass. Overall, it is pre and post workout nutrition that are most important.
Takeaways: Not important for most people. Only for endurance training lasting over 1-1.5hrs or strength/hypertrophy workouts while in a caloric deficit.
Post-workout nutrition is just as important as pre-workout. With pre-workout you are priming your body with nutrients to perform a given exercise, with post-workout you are providing your body with nutrients to recover from the exercise you just performed. Most adaptations to exercise, whether endurance or strength do not actually occur in the gym. The workout is just the stimulus, where as the actual strength or endurance gains you make happen after you leave the gym.
After working out we want to replete energy stores just as we fueled them pre-workout. So the main nutrients of importance are carbohydrates and protein, with fat playing a supporting role. When it comes to protein we want to provide a similar amount as pre-workout if not slightly more. Secondly, we want to provide a good source of carbs to restore the body's energy reserves. Here again, we do not want to consume a high fat meal directly after a workout. This will prevent the nutrients from becoming readily available to the body as quickly a possible.
In many cases, gym-goers focus on simple carbohydrates such as white rice, potatoes or breakfast cereal, to restore glycogen (body's stored form of carbs) as quickly as possible. This can be paired with a protein powder, or a lean protein source such as chicken, turkey, yogurt, low-fat tofu.
Take aways: Moderate amount of quick digesting carbohydrates within 1-2hrs after workout, combined with a good source of protein (15-50g), as well as a small amount of fat, around 5-15g. This recommendation applies to most people.
Like anything in nutrition, variation from person to person can be huge. One person may like to eat high fat foods before working out and feels just fine, where as others feel sick if they eat a fatty meal before working out. The recommendations given here are for MOST people. Nutrition surrounding exercise can also varying greatly for individuals with different goals. If you compare someone who in preparing for an ultra-marathon to someone who is preparing for the Mr. Olympia, of course their pre and post workout is going to be vastly different. For a more individualized recommendation feel free to contact us.
If you found this article helpful please feel free to share. What kind of nutrition strategies do you use surrounding your workouts? I would love to know, please comment below.
And until next time my friends, BE ELITE!