What You Should Eat Before and After a Workout
Do you ever find yourself wondering what “the secret” is which keeps the fitness icons and physiques seen across your social media news feed in near perfect shape?Are you frustrated with your fitness progress despite your best efforts in the gym? Or maybe you’re choosing foods which are generally believed to constitute a healthy and active lifestyle but still not getting the results you desire.
While there’s much information being passed around the blogosphere and internet in regard towhat to eat, it seems that there’s often not much attention paid to the all important question ofwhen & how you should be using these foods.
If you’re one of the many that despite incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet, or even going vegan, vegetarian, or raw, working out on a regular basis, and trying your best to do everything “right,” yet are just not seeing the results that you feel match your efforts, then be prepared to receive the missing link that may just be what’s separating you from your goals.
The Importance Of Nutrient Timing
The most successful of fitness enthusiasts and body sculptors know that what matters most when it comes to making progress is not only what you eat, but when. Nutrient timing is arguably one of the most underused practices among the general gym-going crowd, but can allow for vastly different outcomes when it comes to meeting or missing your goals.
We’ve probably all heard the popular saying among fitness buffs that “abs are made in the kitchen,” and though to a large degree “we are what we eat,” if you are not properly timing your meals or choosing optimum food combinations to assimilate and encourage the cells to take in these beneficial nutrients, then your efforts may as well be in vain. In other words, instead of popping dates, cacao nibs or cashews whenever you feel like it just because they’re “superfoods” or “good for you,” choose to eat with purposeful timing and eat for your unique constitution and goals, whether they be aesthetically or functionally driven.
So just how does one eat with purpose? And why is it so important to be deliberate in the timing of one’s food choices? Let me explain.
Eat with Purpose
It’s probably not news to you that what you choose to eat at any given moment ultimately ends up being used—either to fuel a physical task at hand or to spark some other internal bodily process—or stored in the body. Contrary to popular perception, not all storage is bad. Our body needs to have some essential fat stores to ensure proper functioning of the nervous and endocrine system which synergistically work together and are responsible for the regulation of hormones.
That being said, it’s probably safe to assume most of us would much rather enjoy proper use of our nutrients and food consumption than we would to increase body fat, especially for those of us who are working toward a fitness goal.
Eating foods that do not serve an immediate purpose or use by the body, whether that be internal or external in nature, may eventually lead to excess visceral & subcutaneous fat deposits in the body, thereby hampering efforts toward reaching your goals.
So in order to prevent an experience of unwanted or unnecessary weight gain and to reach your goals more efficiently and expediently, it is imperative that one eats with purpose, avoiding mindless eating, and determine the appropriate fuel for his or her sport or activity.
Avoid Mindless Eating
We’ve all been there. Decompressing from a long day at the office, driving the kids here or there, or whatever work the day demands, we are suddenly tempted to pick up that bag of trail mix and begin munching on the sweet and salty blend until we’ve unknowingly eaten every last morsel. For many of us, we’ll spend the rest of our evenings on the computer or catching our favourite television program before we retire for the night, and ultimately remain inactive post-snack. Although something like trail mix may not be in itself unhealthy, eating any high-energy food late in the evening or during any other time of inactivity can cause a surplus in caloric intake over what the body has required for the day.
To avoid taking in excess nutrients, follow these simple guidelines:
- Eat until 75% full to avoid overloading the digestive system to allow for proper absorption and assimilation of nutrients.
- Eat every 2-3 hours to keep the metabolic flame burning on high.
- Curb cravings and ensure proper functioning of hormones by getting a moderate amount of healthy dietary fats into your diet from sources such as coconut oil, avocado, hemp oil, tahini, or the like.
- Hunger is often a sign of low nutrient intake; whip up a green juice or smoothie to get a quick influx of vitamins & minerals to satisfy and fill possible nutrition gaps and tame the appetite!
- When in doubt, drink more water! If you find yourself hungrier than usual in between meals, have a glass of water and see how you feel afterward before eating something else.
Determine the Appropriate Fuel for your Sport
On the whole, it seems that the most confusion among goal-oriented fitness novices arises when faced with the decision of what to eat prior to and after a workout. Before heading out to the gym or stocking up at the grocery store, you should first consider what types of activities you are going to be fueling.
How demanding your training plan is will determine how nutrient or energy dense the foods you need to eat will be. For instance, a professional bodybuilder or power lifter will most likely demand a much higher quantity of energy dense foods than a casual weekend warrior taking a jog through the park. It’s no mystery that varying types of exercise & workloads require different nutrient densities.To put it into perspective, you probably wouldn’t want to eat a heavy, complex meal comprised of a rich starch and protein, such as rice and beans for example, right before heading out to the track to practice your sprints, and in the same manner would most likely need a little more sustenance than a few slices of cucumber if you were planning to bust out some squats in the weight room.
Fortunately, science provides us with some simple guidelines to select the appropriate fuel to optimize performance in our sports or physical activities of choice. Whether the demands of your exercise or training plans are mostly aerobic, somewhat anaerobic, high or low-intensity, or a little of both as is most common, use these principles & guidelines to make the right pre- and post-workout food choices and avoid common pitfalls in sports nutrition.
1. Protein does not fuel activity. That’s right, the amount of protein you eat prior to a workout has no effect on providing fuel to meet whatever physical demands your activity requires. There are two main energy pathways that the body utilizes for any type of exercise, and those are fats and carbohydrates. Protein can be converted into energy in last resort instances, however, when considering what foods to eat prior to picking up the weights, pass on the protein until the hours post-workout when amino acid replenishment will be vital.
- Ingest a quick-digesting source of amino acids immediately post-workout to utilize the muscle cell’s brief window of sensitivity in nutrient uptake.
- To make the ultimate muscle-rebuilding potion, mix plant-based protein (such as Sunwarrior or Vega), hemp seeds, or spirulina into coconut water for electrolyte replenishment, and a sugar-free burst of tasty nutrients.
2. Carbs are King in both pre- & post-workout nutrition. The body’s preferred source of energy will almost always be carbohydrates. They are necessary to fuel aerobic and anaerobic activities, from running to weightlifting, and everything in between. When choosing the proper carbs to eat before and after a meal, consider these digestion times of the following food examples:
- Fruits, smoothies, and fresh pressed vegetable juice are all excellent fast-acting carb choices to consume as soon as 15-30 minutes before a workout.
- High-energy, high-GI foods such as dates are best eaten prior to or during an endurance or lengthy activity to provide instant energy and replenishment to waning muscle glycogen stores.
- Eat quinoa, other pseudo-grains, gluten-free oats, etc. at least 3 hours before a workout, or better yet, in the hours following.
- Opt for plenty of vegetables in the hours post-workout to get an array of amino acids and antioxidants into your diet.
3. Don’t forget fat. Eating some healthy dietary fats can also be beneficial to your fitness goals. If your activity is lower intensity and higher endurance in nature, then you will definitely want to reach for some healthy fat sources prior to commencing your activity. Make sure you don’t overdo it, however, as some take longer to digest than others and can hamper performance.
- For activities lasting longer than 1 hour, choose to include some healthy fats before your workout to use as fuel if and when your intramuscular carbohydrate stores are depleted.
- Avocado, coconut oil & chia seeds are superior pre-workout fat choices but some nuts and seeds can be eaten a few hours prior to allow for proper digestion.
4. Other helpful timing tips
- Make sure to eat an easily digestible source of balanced carb, fat, and amino acid replenishment immediately post-workout and up to 1-1.5 hours following when the cells are most receptive to take in nutrients.
- Banana and nut butter, vegetables and hummus, avocado and apple with Himalayan salt for sodium replenishment, or a quick shake are all excellent post workout choices.
- Add chlorophyll drops to your water to boost oxygen intake and performance during workouts, and optionally add chia gel for the ultimate sports drink!
- Blended foods digest quickly and easily and are always a convenient meal on the go!
Eat for your Goals
So you are on a quest for that quintessential lean, toned and defined look that most fitness devotees seek? Well, by strategically eating for your goals, and being consistent with these habits you will without a doubt earn yourself a body to rival the physiques on your vision board. Here are a few distinctions between two of the most common fitness goals:
Gain Muscle Mass
- Avoid going into caloric deficit by feeding your muscles plenty of complex carbohydrates & fat sources from foods such as avocado, quinoa, sweet potato, etc.
- Assist in muscle repair during rest days by choosing high nutrient density, amino acid food sources such as hemp seeds, activated nuts and seeds, broccoli, cabbage, and other high glutamine cruciferous vegetables, and a good amount of greens & superfood algae.
- Eat larger meals, less frequently. Just like lifting heavier weights for less repetitions, by avoiding incessant snacking during the day and eating only a few main meals will help with a bulking program.
- Try to eat most of your higher or simple carbohydrate foods either before or after your workout to ensure they are used and not stored.
- Choose to consume higher calorie & nutrient dense foods on active days and make sure you are eating an abundance of high-water content vegetables and foods on less active days.
- Aim to eat most of your daily intake of carbohydrates around your workout or the times where you will be most active. Complex carbohydrates such as green vegetables, etc are great to eat in the hours after training as they assist in muscle repair.
- Earn your food. If you won’t use it, don’t eat it.
Hopefully these concepts have demystified some of the confusion surrounding the timing of meals and which foods to eat for your fitness goals. By applying these principles, you’ll be on your way to that svelte, lean, strong figure in no time!
- Eat carbs before to fuel your workout & enhance fat-burning.
- Steer clear of high-energy foods during low-energy activities to avoid undesired weight gain.
- To prevent further muscle breakdown, eating within 30 minutes after your workout is the most ideal.
- Eat appropriately for your intensity level; eat to workout, don’t workout to eat.
- When in doubt, you can (almost!) never go wrong choosing fruits, veggies, and healthy fats in balanced proportions.
drinks, natural healing, & an innate passion for helping others reclaim their
health. Her love of the human body & background in personal training led
her to obtain her Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from California State
University, Northridge. Soﬁa has competed in NPC bikini competitions, is a
vegan bodybuilding spokesperson, self-published author, & a Live Foods
Chef. Currently, she resides on a small island in the Paciﬁc Northwest,
where she studies Herbology & enjoys foraging for wild edibles, gardening,
& paddleboarding. She believes every person should be able to enjoy an
abundant life full of vibrant health & has made it her life mission to help
improve the lives of all those she encounters.You can connect with her via her athlete page: http://www.facebook.com/RVbikini, or her blog: http://www.rawsplendent.com. She has released a competition guide to plant powered prep as well which you can check out
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- What You Should Eat Before & After a Work Out to Get Results: A Female Fitness Expert Explains