Once you get serious about making fitness a priority in your life, workout nutrition must become a major focus in your life.
We’ll make it easy and break down what you need to know.
Working out is good for you in so many different ways. It gives you physical strength and can help with your mental well being too! And everyone knows your diet comes into play with this, too. But still, it can be confusing to know what to eat before and after a workout.
A lot of people find themselves asking: Should you eat after a workout at all? The answer to that one is yes. But it’s perfectly normal to have questions about how to do this right, to get the most out of your workouts, and reach your goals.
Don’t worry; we’re here to help. We’ll go in depth about workout nutrition – and cover it all- from what to eat before a workout, what to eat after a workout, and where you can go wrong if you’re not careful. Keep reading and we’ll steer you clear of these pitfalls!
In a nutshell: If you get in a well-balanced meal about 1-2 hours before you exercise and follow it up with another healthy, well-balanced meal 30 mins to 2 hours after you exercise, this is pretty much best practice.
What does this mean? If you’re a generally healthy person who exercises and eats well on a regular basis, you really don’t need to tick and tally every calorie you eat, but installing healthy principles as the boundaries and foundation of your diet will save you tons of time and maximize your gains.
If you consider yourself an athlete, you have specific needs that need to be met.
Here’s what we’ve found:
Workout Nutrition for Endurance Athletes
If you’re an endurance athlete…
This means you’re training for a hardcore competition and likely log a ton of high-intensity miles every single week. So your needs include higher calorie and carbohydrate intake. Eating carbs before a workout will help your performance but remember that carbs digest at different rates, if you’re fueling just before an endurance workout, make sure to have some low GI (glycemic index) carbs hours and days before the workout, and focus on high GI carbs immediately before and after a workout. Add a little protein and carbohydrate drink while you’re training for some added success – this is of course also one of the best foods to eat after a workout.
Workout Nutrition for Body Builders
If you’re training as a bodybuilder…
Your goals have size requirements. and you’re lifting some serious weights in order to gain muscle and strength. Your protein and calorie intake needs to be significantly higher. You need, daily, at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight for growth. If you’re asking yourself what to eat after working out, try to add a protein and carbohydrate drink to have in between meals and immediately post workout (within 30 minutes). This will help you, in addition to natural food sources, to reach the protein intake required for growth.
Workout Nutrition for Fitness Competitors
If you’re preparing for a fitness competition…
You’ve been racking up some serious hours at the gym – and now you’re trying to cut your body fat percentage as low as you can. So your carb intake needs to be a lot lower than others. When it comes to what to eat after a workout, you should be aiming for branched-chain-amino-acids, or BCAAs. They’re fantastic for your performance and really help your muscles maintain strength with less fatigue. Protein before or after a workout is a good choice for you, too. But when it comes to cutting fat, first and foremost, no starches, no sugars. From there it gets pretty simply if you’re training hard and sleeping enough.
For those of you asking: Is it better to eat before or after a workout? The simple answer: both. If you want to grow bigger muscles, surprise, you’ve got to eat. Workout nutrition and recovery make more of a difference than that extra set at the gym. Every night is a chance to grow while you sleep, so the more nutrient rich meals you get in each day, along with training, the better chances your muscles have for progress with the right workout nutrition.
Workout Nutrition with Protein Shakes and Fitness Drinks
A lot of hotshot magazines based on men and women’s fitness say exercise drinks are important in helping with your body’s recovery and hydration after a workout. And they truly stress the importance of nutritional timing for every workout enthusiast.
So what does this mean for workout nutrition and your after workout meal?
Not everyone can physically bring themselves to eat 30 minutes after workout. If you can, great. Get those nutrients in as quick as possible post-workout and keep eating every 2 hours until you fall asleep. Here’s the thing, while 30 minutes might be an IDEAL window, this does not mean for one second that you’ve wasted your workout if you don’t get to eat for 2 hours after. Your body is repairing for much longer than this after each workout, so don’t be discouraged, but DO try to get at least a protein shake in your body RIGHT after your workout.
With workout nutrition, nutrient timing can work. And for some people, it does. But this is just one piece in the puzzle of nutrients. It has to be used in the right way in the right environment in order to ensure it’s utmost effectiveness.
Aka, pay attention to the breakdown we’re about to provide, so you can determine if you personally should eat before or after a workout. And we can help you decide what to eat post workout.
What works for a person who works out twice a week won’t necessarily work for a person who does long distance running on a daily basis. Those who benefit the most from these specialized nutritional regimens are those who work out as athletes. Please keep in mind this kind of nutrition is designed for a body that is in a state of training and repair. If you’re not training, it’s important to first consider what you’re doing to your health by living a sedentary lifestyle. Also to keep in mind that calorie deficits and surpluses determine your weight over time, whether you’re working out or not. If you eat like a runner and don’t run, you will gain fat.
If you’re an athlete or serious exerciser, the following strategies could seriously help your mission.
Workout Nutrition: There Are No Magic Tricks
If you haven’t been someone who is into eating after a workout, it’s time to reconsider. Making critical nutrients available to your body as soon as muscle fibers have been broken down is key to growth. This happens by eating on both sides of the workout.
The first question is – What to eat before a workout?
If you eat before a workout, you’re setting yourself up for success. It can make a huge difference in everything from your overall recovery and performance while working out. Just make sure to learn your body’s limits, some people might need a 2 hour gap before exercise after eating. Others can eat a burrito in between sets.
The goals of your post workout meal should include:
- Sustain energy
- Replenish glycogen stores for next workout
- Protein for muscle growth.
- Natural fats
- Optimized recovery
Workout Nutrition and Protein
Wondering what to eat before working out, your first thoughts should go to protein. And it should be consumed a few hours before you start exercising (and right after… and all day).
Here’s a big question – when does your body need amino acids the most? Right before you work out! And eating protein gives your body exactly what it’s craving. Now that’s a good deal.
Workout Nutrition and Carbohydrates
So what about workout nutrition and carbs? If you’re getting your carbs from vegetables, feel free to eat up. When it comes to starches, your best bet is to restrict these to ONLY in your post workout meal. Sweet potatoes and brown rice are our favorites. In your post workout meal is also a perfect time for a banana. Your muscles will use the glucose in protein synthesis to build muscle.
Carbs give you the fuel you need for your exercise – and for your recovery. Most importantly, don’t forget, you can’t build muscle without them. If fat burning is your main priority then by all means, cut your carbs, but in terms of maximizing your muscular size and strength gains, you simply can’t do without carbs.
Workout Nutrition and Fats
Finally, what about the fats? Whether you want to be leaner or grow, you still need healthy fats in your diet. These are critical to brain function and natural plant based fats have a list of phytonutrients with benefits beyond the understanding of current science.
On the plus side, fats slow down your digestion, this helps with satiety in between meals. Plus, there are plenty vitamins and minerals in avocados, olive oil, and nuts.
Nutrition During Your Workout
If you plan to eat during your workout, there’s one rule that’s more important than any other – stay hydrated! Your muscles are 85% water, this means that hydration is a stone pillar in the world of workout nutrition. But also, keep in mind that certain types of training can make eating mid-workout very difficult on your digestion. Protein shakes are a safe bet for those looking to gain muscle size, but these can cause stomach indigestion during cardio and endurance training.
What you eat should provide fuel right away, as well as increase your next performance and recovery. If you’re already fueling muscle growth while you’re mid-workout, you’re getting a head start on recovery before your workout has even completed.
If you decide on protein during your exercise, your muscle breakdown rate will be significantly less. This also means your recovery is going to be shorter and your body will have an easier time adapting to your training – especially if it’s been more than 3 hours since you’ve eaten a meal.
Carbs also give you the fuel you need right away, which then adds boost to your performance and recovery. Again, this is for athletes that want to gain a lot of muscle or those that go on long runs. Excess carbs when you’re not training hard, can be stored as body fat—not what you want.
If you’re bringing a shake to the gym, you can save the fats until post workout. These might slow down your performance midworkout.
Eating during a workout is really only needed for athletes that do hardcore workouts several times a day or trying to gain a lot of mass. Or if your exercise is going to last longer than two hours. As always, bring tons of water, but consider bringing a loaded up protein shake with a banana and a few almonds or coconut oil mixed in for a perfectly balanced mid-workout boost!
Okay, it’s time to discuss your next question – What should I eat after a workout? Don’t worry, we gotcha.
The Best Thing to Eat After The Main Event
Here we go – the best thing to eat after a workout. Your post-workout choice needs to help you with the 3 R’s:
It should also help increase your muscle mass and aid in your future performances. Eating protein helps with protein breakdown and encourages protein synthesis (the regrowth of new muscle), which then leads to improved (or at least maintained) muscle tissue. So protein serves as a great way to achieve a better recovery, acclimatization, and overall performance.
According to new research, fast-digesting proteins can get into our systems too fast, and therefore don’t extend protein synthesis. So this shows that protein powders, including the type that digests quickly, aren’t any better for us than whole food proteins in the full post workout meal, but a shake immediately after workout out, before you consume the full post gym feast can help jump start the recovery process faster.
You want a shake? Go for it.
You want an actual meal? Go for it.
Protein, in whatever form, will do the job as long as you eat the right amount. For moderate athletes, this means about 20-30 grams for women (usually about 1 palm size) and 40-60 grams for men (usually about 2 palms full). Your overall intake of lean proteins throughout the day should approach 1g of protein per pound of body weight for real growth.
So what’s the deal with carbs? You don’t need to totally gorge yourself with carbs to make the most of your workout. So seriously, put down the bread. It’s going to be OK. However, as mentioned, after your workout is the one good time to eat starches as their fast digestion and break down aids in protein synthesis.
Mix whole food carbs in with some fruit. This makes it easier to tolerate and restores glycogen. Plus, many studies show it could even lead to a better performance the following day.
Last one – the fats. Some people believe exercisers should steer clear of fats after exercise because, as we’ve said, it slows down digestion. However, when you are trying to replenish your protein stores, this can actually be useful as your body can only digest about 30g of protein max in a sitting, so in theory, the fats could actually improve your protein efficiency.
Healthy natural fats are essential in your meals throughout the day, and especially after you workout. These will not, contrary to some old beliefs, cut back on the benefits of eating carbs and protein after a workout. Fish oil is an essential supplement that you should also consider adding to your It might actually provide its own unique benefits!
So here’s the overall recommendation: eat a small, balanced meals containing some fast digesting carbs, protein and a bit of natural fats. BCAAS and a pre-workout supplement containing some caffeine can boost stamina and avoid muscle fatigue. If you’re really trying to build muscle, a protein shake during and within 30 minutes after your workout can really help. Fish oil will also be a useful addition to your regimen as it fights inflammation throughout the body caused by intense training. For your full post meal, remember this is the one perfect time for healthy starches like sweet potatoes and brown rice. Another protein shake before sleep will also fuel your body for the longest period it goes without nutrients (while you’re sleeping).
But you shouldn’t wait a few hours to eat, either. The sooner the better, but remember, keep eating every couple hours as your metabolism will be scorching from your workout. Try to eat within two hours after your workout. If you don’t feel like eating, try a protein shake. It’s a great way to get fueled, fast!
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