Author: Stephaney Theobald, with preface by Erica Willick
As a diet coach, I get a lot of questions every day, but perhaps two of the most common I hear are “Should I eat before I workout?” and “What’s the best thing to eat after a workout?”.
This article will answer that question. However, in typical Gorgo-fashion we fill you in on the bigger picture so you can decide how important, or unimportant this question actually is for you.
Asking about pre and post workout nutrition, especially as you get started with diet, is like someone asking you “What do you want from the menu?” before you determined what night you were going to go out for dinner (are you even available?), what style of restaurant is of interest to you (mexican, fast food, cafe, etc.), and what restaurant are you going to. To have a great dinner out, there are a number of much more important items that need to be address before you dive into figuring out what to order off a menu!
One of the best representations of how important, or unimportant pre/post workout nutrition may be for you was developed by Eric Helms in his “Muscle and Strength Pyramids” books.
In the pyramid below, Eric Helms takes the aspects of diet and stacks them into order of importance as they relate to your overall dietary success. The items at the base of the pyramid are most important, and the items at the top of the pyramid least important. You’ll notice “Nutrient Timing”, which pre and post workout nutrition falls into, is close to the top of the pyramid. This means pre/post workout nutrition is less important than overall Energy Balance (total calories in/out), Macros (your ratio of protein/carbs/fats), and the Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
So before you get bogged down with what to eat before/after a workout, you’re better off to master the items below Nutrient Timing in the pyramid. Priorities in nutrition are like priorities in life! Put your focus where it really matters, and only add to your priorities when you have a good handle on the really important stuff!
OK, SO YOU’RE ACTUALLY READY FOR PRE AND POST NUTRITION
If you’re rocking the other (more important) parts of your diet, then let’s dive into what to eat before and after a workout.
As with most things, there is really no ONE right answer, as it heavily depends on factors such as the individual’s body type, goals, workout style, fitness level, schedule, etc. – however in this article I will attempt to address these questions in a general sense that applies to a broad audience.
SIMPLIFIED: Eat protein and carbohydrates before and after workouts.
But, let’s get more specific:
First, let me clarify that when I say “workout” in this article, I am referring to any high intensity activity such as heavy weight-training or any cardio that gets your heart rate above 65% max.
The most important rule of thumb I tell most people who are looking to build muscle or lean out while preserving muscle is that it’s VERY important to eat before a workout. Working out on an empty stomach is more likely to encourage the body to break down its nutrient-dense muscle for the fuel it needs to get through a tough workout, which is the opposite of what most people are trying to accomplish.
Updated research supports this showing that fasted cardio is not effective for fat loss, although this used to be a commonly held belief. If you hear a trainer or coach telling you to workout on an empty stomach for better results, they need to do some updating to their research.
Pre-workout, I find that a good strategy is to eat some kind of lean protein with a low-fiber carbohydrate.
The lean protein will provide the amino acids your body will need to protect the muscle during an intense workout. Generally, I prefer a slower digesting protein before a workout, but even a fast-acting protein such as whey isolate is better than having no protein.
The carbs will provide the fuel needed to get through the workout. For pre-workout carbs, I typically like ones that are lower in fat and fiber because I find that foods too high in fat or fiber can tend to sit in the gut and make you feel too full or uncomfortable during an intense workout. You may find that you feel better during a workout with slower digesting carbs like oats. Give both a try and see how you feel.
Pre-workout meal timing is 1-1.5 hrs before working out (maybe 20-30 min if just eating a fast digesting shake).
A strategy I’ve found to be effective with most people post-workout is eating a fast-acting protein and a higher glycemic carbohydrate. After an intense workout your muscles have been broken down and are essentially looking for nutrients to aid in recovery and rebuilding.
Eating or drinking a fast-acting protein, such as whey isolate, will allow the amino acids to get to work more quickly, and
A higher glycemic carb will better spike the insulin and help shuttle nutrients to the muscle more quickly and efficiently.
It’s not BAD to eat a slower digesting/high fiber carb post workout. But the faster the carb can be digested, the more your insulin will spike and you get better shuttling of nutrients to recovering muscles. I don’t promote eating SUPER high glycemic carbs like Skittles, PopTarts, etc. as a general rule (because I prefer cleaner eating), but of course, truth be told, there are times I’ve had candy with my post workout meal. If you have committed to a healthy diet, and you are craving a little something sweet, the post workout meal can be a good place to slip it in.
A great example of a post-workout meal is a whey isolate protein shake with a white potato. Plus, I like to add greens for their anti-inflammatory effect (can be whole veggies or a greens supplement), sea salt since it has 26 minerals to help the protein and carbs cross the cell membrane, and a fish oil supplement for more anti-inflammatory effect.
These are a few of many options:
whey isolate & white potato
egg whites & white bread
whey isolate & banana
egg whites & grapes
As with anything each individual should experiment and learn what works best for their situation, body type and goals. However starting with the tips above may help you get more out of your workouts and further in your journey towards a fit and sexy body!