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What to eat before and after a workout

Sports nutrition doesn't have to be that complicated

As you embark on your journey from replacing former poor eating habits with new healthy alternatives, you’ll get more and more comfortable making the right decisions for your general health and wellbeing. You’ll experience really positive fat loss results, and if coupled with a solid resistance training program, you may even be experiencing some really positive muscle gains as well. There will come a time when you want to take the next step in your nutrition education and implementation. That next step is what to eat before and after a workout to achieve optimum results.

Maximising fat loss and muscle gains is what it’s all about for those who have spent a little time in the gym or working out at home. To achieve those goals, what you eat must be your number one consideration. You could have the best workout program ever created, but if your nutrition isn’t right, you won’t reap the full benefits.

What to eat before and after a workout to get in shape?

If you’re like most men who want to lose a few kilos of fat and put on a few kilos of muscle, then what to eat before and after a workout is pretty simple.

Around an hour or two before your workout, eat a healthy meal with protein, carbohydrates, fats and vegetables, using our hands to measure portion control as we’ve discussed before. This could be some chicken (two palms), sweet potato (two scoops), nuts (two thumbs) and mixed veggies (two fists). For women, this amount should be halved. Now, this is great if you workout during the day or after work, but what about if you workout in the morning? Getting up an hour or two before your workout is probably not going to happen, right? So blending up a protein shake with a banana, some nuts and spinach before you head out the door is an excellent alternative. It won’t take long to digest so you’ll get the full benefit by the time you get to the gym and hit the weights.

After your workout, make sure you eat another well-balanced meal with protein, carbs and vegetables, again using your hand to measure portion sizes. Some gym junkies will tell you that if you don’t consume a protein source within minutes of the end of your workout, it will have all been for nothing. Of course, this is nonsense. It’s true that the sooner you eat the better, but as long as you eat within a couple of hours you’ll see fantastic results.

Why do you need to fuel your body before a workout?

If you don't eat a nutritious meal pre-workout, your performance may suffer

There’s a popular theory that to maximise fat loss you should workout in the morning before you’ve eaten anything. The idea is that your body will be low on blood sugar levels because you haven’t eaten since dinner the night before, so you’ll automatically start using stored fat as its energy source. Sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t really work in real life.

To get the best results from your workout, you need to fuel your body with healthy and nutritious foods. This will help you feel energised and maximise performance levels, preserve lean muscle mass and boost your recovery time. Eating nothing before a workout will work against these important factors. The two most important macronutrients you need before you workouts are protein and carbohydrates.

  • Protein – Increases muscle growth potential, and decreases muscle damage.
  • Carbohydrates – Boosts available energy levels, speeds up recovery, assists protein to do its job to build muscle.

What should I consume while I’m exercising?

Unless you’re seriously into your chosen area of fitness, such as bodybuilding, long distance running or strength training, then drinking plenty of water is good enough. Your main focus while you train, apart from working as hard as you can, is to stay hydrated. And if you’ve had a solid pre-workout meal as outlined above, you shouldn’t need any additional energy sources while you train. What to eat before and after a workout is important, don’t worry about it during your workout.

But what about sports drinks I hear you say? Unless you’re planning on spending at least two hours going for a run or pumping weights in the gym, steer clear of sports drinks. Athletes get paid a lot of money to promote sports drinks, and the consumer is fooled into thinking they must be good for everyone. They’re not. They’re full of sugar and we all know what sugar does to us if we don’t burn the energy immediately. So, unless you’re training like a professional athlete for hours at a time, don’t drink them. Ever.

On the other hand, if you are performing long duration cardio exercise for two hours or more, make sure you refuel every 15-20 minutes. This means water for rehydration, carbs such as fruit or a sports drink for energy, and protein to maintain as much lean muscle mass as possible.

What should I eat after my workout?

Again, for best results, you should eat a well-balanced meal within a couple of hours of finishing. Or, if you only had a shake (or didn’t eat at all) before training, you might want to eat a healthy meal within an hour. That means protein (two palm sizes), carbs (two hand scoops), fats (two thumbs) and vegetables (two fists), using our hand measurements to control portion sizes (for women it’s half that amount). Protein and carbohydrates play a vital role post-workout:

  • Protein – Prevents muscle breakdown and stimulates growth, and helps with recovery. This could either be from meat, eggs or a protein shake.
  • Carbohydrates – Replenishes energy stores, and helps protein do its job of growing muscle. Get this from natural sources, and definitely not a sugary drink.

Now, some people don’t feel like eating after a workout. That’s ok, just try and blend up a shake with enough protein, carbs, fats and veggies to maximise recovery. What does that look like? Maybe some water, a scoop or two of protein powder, a couple of handfuls of frozen berries, some spinach and a couple of thumbs of nuts. Or make up your own shake blend, that’s half the fun of experimentation!

There is no perfect workout nutrition plan

What to eat before and after a workout? There's more to it than just protein.

What I’ve spoken about here is a great general guideline for what to eat before and after a workout. But it’s not perfect. Why? Because everyone is different. To understand what is best for you, you’ll need to do some experimenting of your own. If you’re not seeing the fat loss you want, decrease the amount of fats and/or carbs you have pre- and post-workout. If you’re not seeing the muscle gains you’d hoped for, try upping the protein intake.

While it’s ideal to eat a nutritious meal within 1-2 hours of starting and finishing your workouts, don’t stress too much about it if you can’t achieve that for whatever reasons. What is more important is getting the right amount and type of food into your system across the day. As long as you eat healthy and nutritious foods in the right balance consistently over weeks and months, you’ll see fantastic results from your workout routines. What to eat before and after a workout matters far more than when you eat it.

Finally, above all else, consistency is the key. I can not stress this enough. If you want to see great results from your workouts, you have to commit to training 3-4 days per week. If you want to see great results from your eating habits, you must commit to eating healthy and nutritious meals 80-90% of the time. If you only stay the course for a week before having a week or two off, then picking up again where you left off, you just won’t see the results you’re hoping for. I’ll say it again because it is so important…consistency is the key.

Over to you…

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