Whether you are starting a new exercise program (or already an old program) and looking to reach specific fitness goals, it is important to pay more attention to nutritional intake. When you are eating the right foods to support your weight loss or muscle gaining goals etc., you will see a vast increase in results from your program as nutrition can actually account for up to 90% of the progress you see. Two of the most critical times for taking in proper nutrition are right before your workout session and immediately afterwards.
Why Do I Need these Pre and Post-Workout Meals?
The pre-exercise meal/snack will help provide an energy boost for your workout, provide muscles with the fuel they need to perform vigorous exercise, reduce the likelihood of feeling weak or lightheaded, and help offset any muscle loss that may occur during the workout. The meal after the workout serves to supply your body with new energy that it will use to either refill its muscle glycogen stores or to repair the damaged muscle tissues. In addition, a small meal before and after a workout greatly revs up your metabolism. If you skip this important meal you will drastically jeopardize the results you could see from your workout.
Learn your Macros
The foods we eat contain three macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Each of these macronutrients supplies the body with energy.
Carbohydrates are our body’s most direct source of energy. This is why you hear of athletes carbohydrate loading before an event – because to do so provides the body with a ready supply of energy for use during intense exercise.
When we eat carbohydrates, our bodies store them in the muscles as glycogen, which it then uses for energy throughout the day. As we exercise, we begin to deplete glycogen from carbohydrates – it typically lasts for about an hour and a half and about 50 percent of our body’s energy comes from carbohydrates when we exercise.
Fat also supplies fuel to the body, but much more slowly than carbohydrates. During the first 90 minutes or so of exercise, fat metabolism accounts for about half of the body’s energy requirements, and that jumps up by about 25 percent after we’ve depleted carbs during long-term exercise lasting more than 20 minutes.
When you exercise, your muscle tissue sustains minute bits of damage – micro-tears. Protein in the diet helps your body to repair these tears after exercise, building stronger muscles in the process. Protein may also be metabolized for energy, although it must first be converted into body fat before your body can use it as fuel.
Exercise food needs to contain carbohydrates, some fat, and some protein. If you eat it before exercise, it also needs to be light enough that it won’t weigh you down or make you feel sluggish. Much of what we eat before and after will be determined first by our own personal preference, food tolerance, experience, time of workout, and by athletic or aesthetic goals. Keep in mind that the primary goals of pre- and post-workout nutrition are to enhance performance, improve stamina/endurance, mental focus, and physical power, all while positively affecting body composition (e.g. assist in recovery for building muscle, minimizing muscle damage, losing weight).
The closer you are to the actual exercise, the smaller you will want your snack, meal or shake to be. This will cause less stress on your stomach and allow for proper digestion.
2-3 hours out, go ahead and have a small meal with anywhere from 200-350 calories. It should consist of protein and carbohydrates and just a little fat. Fats tend to help keep you satisfied and can be a good energy source for during your workout but can also slow absorption so don’t overdo it.
If you’re less than an hour before the workout go for either a snack or a liquid shake. Examples of the snack could be a piece of fruit like banana, apple or berries and perhaps just a few almonds. You can also go for a liquid shake which will be more easily digested. Try a combo of some whey protein and berries (and toss in some greens for an added bonus!). Calories for these will most likely be between 100-200. NOTE: I would avoid dairy before your workout so it doesn’t cause your stomach to get upset
TIP: try to consume 16 oz of water approximately 1-2 hours before exercise
Post workout nutrient timing is crucial to limit the amount of cortisol in your body and start the recovery and repair process of your muscles and should be consumed within 30-60 minutes of your exercise, no exceptions. Remember, cortisol is your body’s stress hormone that leads to muscle breakdown and fat storage. Even though exercise is good for you and your fitness goals, it is still a stressor for your body, especially as muscles are broken down. What you eat or drink is also very important as you will read below and this is the one time to limit any kinds of fats as they will slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates.
Although complex carbs are the way to go with their high fiber content and slow breakdown in your body, this is the one time it is different. You want a faster acting carbohydrate combined with a quality protein to take advantage of an insulin response in your body and help drive the protein and nutrients into your muscles and cells to aid in recovery. The more lean tissue you maintain, the higher your metabolism stays and the more body at you can ultimately burn.
Usually, a shake is the best way to accomplish this as it will be easier to digest and will also aid in hydration. You will normally want about a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein so anywhere from 30g:15g up to 50g:25g (180-300 calories) If you’re starving, a meal is ok, but it still takes some time to digest.
As a rule of thumb, if the workouts are resistance intensive or hard cardio workouts (like intervals), or for a long duration (60-90 minutes) then the pre and post nutrition is extremely important. If it is just a light walk, don’t go calorie crazy.
Looking for examples of some great pre and post workout meal ideas? Click HERE