Have you ever wondered why you’re still waiting around for those gym results you’ve been working so hard for? Or why you’re so exhausted after just 10 minutes on the elliptical? Truth is, if you’re getting enough rest, you’re probably not getting the right foods in, especially before and after your workouts. Your favorite fitness model and Instagram foodies have probably posted a myriad of different foods, and the overabundance of information can make a simple nutrition topic confusing. You don’t have to have a degree in nutrition to know how to fuel your body properly, but you should know about the two macronutrients that are important as pre and post workout fuel: carbohydrates and protein.
Carbohydrates (“carbs”) are great sources of fuel for our bodies. Yes, I said carbs! This sticky subject has been a hot topic for years and to truly understand its functions during exercise you need to know the science behind this infamous macronutrient. When consumed, carbs break down into glucose, travel through our bloodstream, and get used for energy while the rest gets stored as glycogen in muscle and the liver. It’s important to build up glycogen stores prior to exercise so that our bodies have enough energy to power through a workout.
In addition to carbs, protein is a great fuel source post workout when muscle fibers are damaged and need to be rebuilt up. I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t want to get huge muscles like a bodybuilder so I don’t take protein post workout.” Truth is you won’t get bulky or masculine results unless you’re taking male hormones while lifting maximum amount of weight and consuming three times as much calories as usual. Besides, protein plays several other roles in addition to muscle growth, including the repair of damaged cells, immune system maintenance, enzyme activity, and production of hormones and tissues. Protein is great not only for muscle rejuvenation but for your overall health!
Before A Workout
Prior to a workout, you want to fuel your body so it’s ready to perform at its peak level. Don’t think just showing up at the gym is going to magically give you results. You’ve got to work hard, sweat hard, and push yourself. In order to perform your best at the gym, our bodies need fuel, just like cars do. The best fuel before a workout is nutrient dense carbohydrates. It is always good to have some protein along with the carb before a workout, but remember – keep the portion size fairly small. Eating a lot of food right before exercising can cause GI discomfort, making it difficult to perform optimally.
Consumption of these snacks 2-3 hrs before your workout will help you get through it feeling energized and it will let you be able to perform past moments of usual fatigue.
Apple + Nut Butter
Nut + Dried Fruit
Greek Yogurt + Fresh Fruit
Banana + Peanut Butter Sandwich
Oatmeal + Almonds + Fruit
Fruit + Cottage Cheese
During A Workout
During a game or a long workout ( >2 hrs) your body needs something that can be absorbed quickly and give you that energy boost you need so you can continue to perform without feeling sluggish. Here are some examples of easy snacks to eat during a long, endurance workout:
After A Workout
After a workout your muscle fibers are desperate for repair and glycogen stores are low. Delaying nutrient consumption after exercise can affect muscular gains. Carbohydrates and protein at a ratio of 3:1 has been proven to benefit the body more post workout than eating carbohydrates alone. A carb/protein snack is best to be consumed within 15-30 minutes after exercise, and a full meal 3-4 hours later. The 30 minutes after a workout is called the “Anabolic Window.” It’s known to be the prime time for muscle development. Studies have shown that eating protein along with carbohydrate 30 minutes post workout increases fat free mass and glycogen stores 50% more than eating carbohydrate alone and two hours later.
These carb + protein snacks will help you recover from a strenuous workout. Don’t forget to eat a nutritious filled meal 3-4 hrs later to further enhance repair and fat free mass growth!
Whey Protein + Fruit Smoothie
String Cheese + Apple
Tuna + Crackers
Boiled Eggs + Toast