A question that is so frequently asked: “What should I eat before and after a workout?” And it really is a great question that if taken seriously has the ability to completely transform not only your workout and performance but also your results. Yes you will be sick of me saying this now, but food, to our body is fuel, so putting the right type in and at the right time will help you to see all the difference.
It is important to mention at this point that the advice given does depend on the type of workout, the length of it and the results you are looking to get. Within this article, I am generally talking about a workout that focuses on an element of strength and cardio such as yoga, pilates, weight training, running, swimming etc that last no more than an hour with the goal of general fitness, weight loss or toning.
So let’s get in to the detail.
Now I know there is a lot out there about fasted workouts, which I will come to in a moment, but just hear me out here. Just as you wouldn’t drive your car on empty, you can’t expect to workout on empty either right? More on this shortly.
When working out your body will direct the blood to the muscles, meaning there will be less available for digestion, consequently slowly it down. Therefore, the key is to aim to eat with enough time before your session, this is ideally 2 hours before.
The important question following this is usually what should you eat? Something like a light breakfast such as toast and peanut butter or natural yoghurt and a handful of granola is ideal. If you are exercising later in the day and have had your last meal within 2 hours then you should be fine (this meal will ideally be balanced).
Many people may just opt for a protein shake before a workout, but ideally you want the carbohydrates as this is your energy source, rather than pretty much full on protein.
What if you can’t eat 2 hours before? If you don’t have that time available then opt for a small amount of quickly digestible carbs such as a small banana, a handful of grapes or a handful of dried cereal.
Fasted workouts… Should I be trying these?
So as promised, let’s take a look at this very popular topic of whether you should be exercising on a full or empty stomach. Of course, everybody has their own opinion on this, I will try to explain mine and some evidence that I use to come to that conclusion as best I can. Of course, it is then up to you what you choose to do.
Many people believe that by not eating before a workout (fasted workout), not only are you saving calories, it will also result in burning more fat and losing more weight over time. The logic behind this is the bodies main sources of fuel are body fat and Carbohydrates. Therefore, if food is not consumed prior to a workout, there will not be any carbohydrates stored and you will be exercising on an empty stomach, so more of your body’s energy needs are met by breaking down fat stores as the fuel. Now, I hear this, and that is a valid point, BUT… I also have counter arguments for this:
Firstly, although there is some, there is no substantial evidence that working out on an empty stomach does actually result in losing more weight or fat compared to eating before a workout.
Also, everybody is different, and what works for one may not work for another. So I know that if I were to try to exercising on an empty stomach I am likely to feel pretty nauseous, shakey and rather weak throughout my workout. Therefore, my performance would not be as strong as it could be and my results over time would reflect this.
So what am I suggesting here? I actually think it is very much down to the individual. If you are happy to wake up and train straight away and still feel that you can get maximum benefits from your training then go for it! But if you know, like me, that you need to get something inside you first then I would recommend opting for that. The best way you can find this out is to simply trial it, and see what helps you to feel at your best.
The best way I used to explain this to my clients was: Imagine your muscles have little hands on them, and when you finish working out the hands open up ready to take anything on board that’s available. You want to ensure you give them the right source fuel as this is when it is ready to refuel and rebuild the muscle tissue, so getting the right nutrients helps to do this faster. The ideal time to do this is within an hour of working out.
The benefits of getting this right include:
- Decrease muscle protein breakdown.
- Increase muscle protein synthesis (growth).
- Restore glycogen stores.
- Enhance recovery.
A balance of protein and carbohydrates is ideal. But why? Let’s break each one down:
Consuming an adequate amount of protein after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild the proteins that are broken down in the muscle during exercise.
Your body uses its glycogen stores as energy during the workout, so by consuming carbohydrates you are helping to replenish them. If you have completed more of an endurance activity, such as a longer run or swim and perhaps you have gone over an hour you may find you need a little more carbohydrates.
What about water? This is another key post-workout fuel that we often neglect. We know we need it during but then in the hours after we may end up going about our normal daily routine and reach for the coffee instead. You obviously lose fluid from your body through sweating during a workout, replenishing these after can seriously help with your recovery.
Examples of post-workout foods:
- Eggs and toast
- Chicken and veg
- Wholegrain toast and nut butter
What about protein shakes I hear you ask? I am all for protein shakes after a workout as it provides the body will fuel immediately and it is really convenient to have with you. The things I would just be aware of is the quality of the shake, and ensure it contains some carbohydrates too, or at least have something like a banana with it.
A quickie on what to do during workouts.
I was going to focus on nutrition before and after a workout but I figured whilst I am here I may as well address this commonly asked question too, so hopefully after reading this you feel fully armored with exactly what to go and do for your nutrition needs when it comes to the whole of your workout.
Now, let’s keep it super simple….
If your workout is an hour or less: You do not need any form of nutrition during a workout. Your body has enough stores to be able to get you through this workout successfully. The only thing you do need is water, well ideally, you will have some kind of electrolyte drink (be aware of which you opt for as many are filled with sugars which are unnecessary). My favourite is the Herbalife CR7 Drink which was specifically designed for and with the help of Cristiano Ronaldo. The idea behind a drink like this is to help you replace the electrolyte you lose from sweating, therefore aiding a quicker recovery and better workout performance.
If your workout is over an hour: This is the time to be fuelling during a workout. Again, something that is more carbohydrate based would be better (as over an hour will generally be an endurance exercise), and carbs are the body’s energy source remember. You could use something such as a sports performance drink, or something like a banana.
You have everything you need
So hopefully you now feel fully armoured with exactly what to do before, during and after your workout and you feel ready to not only go and have a great workout, but also reap the rewards of that too.
I would as always, love to hear any suggestions you have that you find are helpful to you, so please feel free to share these below.
Now and go and have a great workout!