Food can be confusing between all the different types of diets, meal plans, fads and trends. It can be overwhelming when we talk about timing and micro- and macro-nutrients which we will get into more next week!
Especially the food surrounding your workouts. Workout nutrition and knowing what to eat before and after a workout can get complicated, fast. Even just a quick search can leave you with more questions than you started with.
What do I eat before and after my workout? When should I eat it? Does timing matter? Should I even be eating a pre-workout meal? What should I eat to recover? How soon after I work out should I eat? Does it matter what kind of workout I do? How much protein should I have? Should I eat carbs before or after, or both?
My head is spinning just thinking about it!
So let’s dive in and get a clear look at the whys and hows of proper workout nutrition.
Before we get into what you should eat before and after your workout, we need to answer one question: Does it even matter?
The answer is yes! Nutrition is a massive part of your fitness results. You might be sick of hearing it, but it’s true. Abs ARE made in the kitchen and results ARE 80% nutrition. Instead of trying to outwork your diet, put your food to work for you as fuel.
When you plan your meals around your workout you can maximize the benefits. It’s all about eating the right foods at the right time.
Now, I want to recognize that the answer often depends more on the athlete and the specific activity, but there are some common truths that apply for pre- and post-workout nutrition, whether you’re a weekend warrior or a seasoned veteran.
Here’s what you need to eat before and after your workout to reap the most benefits. Important to note that you should not skip the carbs!
Carbohydrates are fuel for your “engine” (i.e., your muscles). And, the harder your engine is working, the more carbs you need to keep going.
In your pre-workout meal you should aim to eat 20 – 40g of fast digesting protein, like a simple protein shake. The rule of thumb is about 20 – 40g of carbs. Pre-workout is a great time to include starchy carbs like rice, oats, Ezekiel bread, etc or simple carbs such as fruit that is low in fiber (bananas, apples, and oranges).
Limit fat and fiber as these will slow digestion. Although slow digestion is typically a good thing because it helps you feel fuller longer, in this case we want this meal to be digested and absorbed quickly.
Make sure you eat your pre-workout meal at least 1 to 2 hours before you workout. If you consume an overabundance of carbs or consume them too close to your workout, your body has insufficient time to metabolize the food. Plus no one likes the feeling of wanting to throw up, so just ensure you eat at least 1 hour prior.
Here are some suggestions for pre-workout fuel:
Notice that each of these suggestions include carbs. Carbs are the fuel. Protein is what rebuilds and repairs, but also “primes the pump” to make the right amino acids available for your muscles. Getting protein and carbs into your system is even more vital post workout.
After your workout you should aim to get about 25 – 30g of protein and about 20 – 60g of carbs. Did you notice it’s about the same as pre-workout? It’s not a mistake. Although the amounts might be the same, the sources are different.
For your post-workout carbs you want them to be fast-absorbing simple sugars: this is critical because it starts the whole recovery/muscle growth process. Following a hard workout, your body is severely depleted of glycogen and glucose. This would be a time to have sweet potato/yam, starchy carb such as bread, rice, pancakes, or a high glycemic fruit such as watermelon.
Just like your pre-workout meal you want to focus on protein, after all, you need to repair the damage you just did while working out! Limit your fat, having some won’t hinder your progress but you should mainly focus on easily digestible foods. One mistake that I see people make is picking a treat that has the right amount of simple sugars, but too much fat.
You’re trying to “jumpstart” your recovery process and slow digestion won’t help. You want to get those vital nutrients to your muscles as quickly as possible. Try to eat your post-workout meal within about an hour of ending your workout.
Choosing easily digested foods will promote faster nutrient absorption.
The following lists contain examples of simple and easily digested foods:
Another important component to recovery is supplementing the amount of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) your body is getting. Protein naturally has amino acids (they’re what make up protein) but branched chain amino acids are formulated to give your body more of the amino acids it needs. We recommend Driven Nutrition regular Amino or Dysrupt with a bit of caffeine.
You can drink Amino any time during the day to continue supporting the recovery process, but we suggest drinking them during your workout so your body can use them immediately. Note: Aminos are a staple supplement for me so I can recover better, live pain free, and continue to progress.
The reason you want to plan your pre- and post-workout meals is because you want to deliver the right nutrients to your body at the right time.
Your body is literally a machine. Just like a car we need the right fuel in order to run at peak capacity. You wouldn’t head out on a long trip with an empty tank right? You know you’re going to run out of gas way before you reach your destination.
And just like your car, without enough gas, you’re going to stop short of your final destination. Which means you might not make it through your whole workout or the quality of your workout will suffer. And in the end this is going to affect your results and your goals.
*If you are fueling your body properly every day, and you workout early in the morning, you don’t HAVE to eat before an early morning workout. But, pay attention! If this is your routine and you start to feel hungry in the morning, your body is signaling you that it needs fuel. So, have a pre-workout plan, nothing huge, just the right amount to get your engine revved up.
Your body has two main sources of fuel that it uses during exercise: glucose (usable energy) and glycogen (stored energy) for energy. As such, there is a point at which blood glucose levels (available energy) and glycogen levels (stored energy) get so low that intense exercise can’t continue. There just isn’t enough available energy for your muscles to use.
Note: A popular myth is that if/when you get past these primary sources of energy that your body will immediately dip into your fat stores to get more fuel. But your body is actually really stubborn and lazy.
1) your body will do everything it can to avoid dipping into your fat stores.
2) it’s a pretty difficult and long process to turn fat back into usable energy.
So what happens is that the hormone cortisol is secreted, this is your body’s “stress” hormone and it has very catabolic effects. What cortisol does is eat up muscle tissue for protein and convert it into glucose. A process called gluconeogenesis ensues, producing glucose from these amino acids in the liver. The net result is a loss of muscle tissue. This is not what we want! Losing lean muscle mass will not only set back your goals of getting toned, it will also slow your metabolism (nooooo!).
By properly fueling your workout you will be able to prevent these negative side effects. You’ll also be more energized giving yourself more stamina to push yourself further in your workout. And better workouts mean better results.
As long as you’re supporting proper recovery that is…
If properly fueling your body helps prevent muscle loss and maximizes how much you can do in your workout, what does a good recovery do for you? Everything!
You don’t build muscle during your workout! In fact, during your workout, you’re actually breaking down your muscle. Exercises, like lifting weights, put stress on your body causing little tears in the muscle – so it is important to help fuel the repair.
When you’re sore the day after an awesome workout, it’s because you’ve broken down your muscles. During your recovery process your body isn’t just restoring your muscles back to normal it’s repairing them so that they’re even stronger than before.
In order for your body to recover properly you need two main things: the building blocks of muscle, a.k.a. amino acids and protein, and energy to power the process, a.k.a. glucose and glycogen. Without these things you won’t be taking full advantage of the work you’re doing at the gym. You’ll also stay sore longer because it will take your body more time to repair.
But with proper post-workout nutrition you can give your body both of these things and you’ll be able to recover and progress faster.
In order for your body to do its thang, you need to give it the necessary fuel. That’s where your workout nutrition comes in. By giving your body what it needs before and after you exercise you can have better workouts and get more out of them too.
Fueling with the right supplements will help you avoid waking up tired and sore.
Here are our top recommendations:
Cheers to improving your workouts and crushing goals!