Anyone who’s started a fitness regime knows that the amount of information out there can get a little overwhelming. When you want to get the most out of your workouts, that information could be enough to make you want to stop training altogether – nobody likes to sweat unnecessarily. To avoid your quitting entirely, we are shedding some light on pre-, post-, and even ‘during’ exercise strategies to help you maximize your training.
Keep in mind, that there are several body types, and what works for others may not work for you, so you may have to try a couple of combinations to find the perfect balance to suit your own training goals.
Also, for certain specialized training programs, for instance, endurance athletes, bodybuilders, etc, there are some very different and specific guidelines to follow. For this piece we are assuming you are a regular person, training for improved fitness and muscle gain, with workouts maxing 1.5 hours – and you don’t have a major sporting event coming up. Also, be sure to be well rested and hydrate long before your workout, to avoid injury and to gain optimal results.
What you need
Before your workout, you need to focus on ensuring your body has the best nutrients to help prepare for the stress it is about to undergo. That means you’ll need to eat something that will ensure maintained energy and hydration while protecting your muscles for optimum repair and muscle mass retention. This can be timed either as a balanced meal about 2 hours before you hit the gym or as a smaller easy to digest snack less than an hour before your workout, think smoothie/shake.
Where to find it
- Protein – Gives a boost of amino acids which helps to build muscle mass and it reduces muscle damage.
- Carbs – give you the energy to complete the training (from endurance to high-intensity shorter workouts); improve glycogen levels so your body builds muscle rather than ‘eating’ it for energy, and ensure insulin is released which helps in the synthesis of protein, which allows for the muscle building benefits above.
- Fats – While fats haven’t been shown to benefit or detract from your workout in recent studies, they do offer some benefits like maintaining glucose and insulin levels, so you have constant energy levels throughout, and they maintain hormone levels as well as some vitamins and minerals not found in carbs and proteins.
Depending on who you are and what you want to achieve, these suggestions will change; if you’re a woman looking to build lean muscle, it goes without saying that you’ll eat differently than a man training for an endurance event. However, some good pre-workout foods include:
Whole, complex carbs, (digest more easily) such as wholegrain pasta, bread, and cereals and carby vegs like sweet potato, and fruit.
Lean protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs and beef, or lentils, chickpeas, greek yogurt, and cottage cheese, as vegetarian options.
Fats again, only whole foods, nothing fried or greasy. This means nuts, seeds, and nut butters are your friends, though only small amounts.
Avoid Processed foods, high-sugar foods and gaseous foods such as brassica family (cauliflower, cabbage, etc), corn and onions.
Supplements: If you’re looking for an easy to digest option, or don’t have the time to prepare a full, cooked meal, there are some protein and supplement shakes available that provide the required nutrients for your pre-workout
During your workout
- For most, eating during your workout won’t be necessary, especially if your pre- and post-workout nutrition is on point. In this case, hydration is key, so the only thing you should consume is plenty of water.
- Assuming you aren’t training for a major event, or for specific high-intensity goals the following are not necessary, however, should your workouts escalate, include: 15g/hour of EAAS, these provide the benefits of your proteins listed above; about 30-40g/hr (taken with protein) of a mix of glucose, fructose, and maltodextrin will help provide the instant energy boost you’d get from Carbs; and avoid fats in general during exercise.
What you need
Post workout nutrition should have a different focus than pre-workout, and that includes providing rehydration, muscle, and energy recovery, muscle building and re-setting for the next workout. This intake should also happen within 2 hours of your workout, minimum, and if you only had a quick shake or trained while fasting, sooner is especially better(in the first 30-60min). If you had a full balance meal before your workout, then you have more time, so feel free to prepare something fancy.
Where to find it
Hydration – weigh yourself before and after your workout. You’ll need to boost hydration if you lose more than 2-3pounds(2% body weight). In this case, about 2 cups of electrolytes or a rehydration drink should be consumed.
Protein – the key here is the synthesis and rebuilding of muscle, which is important for recovery and progress.
Carbs – despite commonly held beliefs, you want to avoid the highly processed carbs and go for whole carbs, preferably with a little fruit to help ensure liver glycogen is restored. It’ll also help prevent muscle protein breakdown, by creating an insulin spike.
Fats – again fats don’t seem to make a difference, either way, however recent research does show that you don’t need to avoid fats post workout, for that reason.
The ingredients of your post workout meal are pretty much the same as your pre-workout meal, regarding fats, protein, carbs, and veg. You can adjust the types of carbs and the quantities to ensure complete recovery. You also want to avoid greasy or highly processed sugary foods. If you were in a fasting state while training, this should not be missed, and it is important to eat a proper full and balanced meal.
Final thoughts on your workout
The key to remember is that if you’re are not training intensively or with specific, serious endurance or muscle gain goals in mind, all of these nutrients are in your standard food intake, with no need for supplements. Make sure you are eating high quality, whole ingredients to get all of the macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and calories to feed your workout without overcompensating. Also, avoid any ‘miracle’ weight loss or energy supplements, they are generally full of unnecessary chemicals and won’t help. While you’re at it, bin those protein bars and low-fat on the run snacks, You’re better off making your own, and you’ll know what they’re made from, again, avoiding those unnecessary chemicals.
One last thing, popular belief used to state that nutrient timing was vital for serious results, however, new studies show that for maintained benefits, timing is not as important as we once thought. Nutrient intake parameters have grown from the rushed 30 min pre and post workout, to the far more comfortable 2 hours, mentioned above. You will still benefit from having shorter timeframes, but you should get those same benefits even if you wait for a bit.
All in all, make smart choices, support your body with enough of the right nutrition, and don’t be shy to play around until you get a perfect balance. Happy training.