How you eat around the workout is not an exact science. Sure, there are many suggestions, but what works for one individual might not work for the next.
Understanding how to eat around training, both in terms of how much and what type of foods to consume, can put you in a great position to begin experimenting with what works best for you.
Despite many making claims that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to workout nutrition, this could not be further from the truth.
In this article, I’ll discuss a few tips about workout nutrition so that you can begin experimenting with your own workout nutrition to find the best route for you as an individual.
Choose Preference Above All Else
In our society and especially in the fitness world, people love to deal in absolutes. Meaning, most desire a single answer to explain what should and should not be done. With workout nutrition, this is one of the most serious offenders.
How you eat around the workout is not an exact science. Sure, there are suggestions based on the type of exercise you’re doing but, at the end of the day, how you eat around the workout will mostly depend on how you feel and what you prefer to do.
For example, training fasted is a hot topic surrounding exercise. On one side, people love to train fasted because it helps nutrient absorption after the training session. Further, some people like me simply don’t care to have a full stomach while training.
However, there are other individuals who suggest that you eat multiple, complete meals in the hours leading up to a training session.
Fortunately, unless you’re a professional athlete who demands ultimate performance, the choice to eat a large amount of food or none at all before, during and after your workout, will be entirely your choice. I can provide suggestions but at the end of the day, you should do whatever makes you feel best.
If, for instance, drinking a protein shake before exercise makes you sick, then don’t have a protein shake. Yes, I always suggest having a form of protein around your training session but if that protein makes you sick and results in you having to abandon workouts, then my suggestion is pointless.
Use this information as suggestions. Try things out until you find the workout nutrition that helps you feel and perform your best.
Don’t Pig Out Before Training
One issue with pre-workout nutrition is that many people think they need enormous amounts of energy before their training session. While you certainly can get some energy before your workout, you might actually be hampering your performance.
First of all, digestion of whole foods takes time. That’s why I always recommend sticking with lean proteins and vegetables, because eating those foods slows digestion, making you feel fuller for longer. That means unless you’re consuming rapidly digestible foods, most of those nutrients won’t actually be helping you during the workout.
Second, exercising and digestion conflict with one another. If you eat a large amount of food, your body wants to divert energy to your digestive tract in order to digest and metabolize those nutrients. If, then, you all of a sudden begin an intense workout, this shuts the digestive process down significantly.
At this point, you’ll have a large amount of food in your gut, which could cause distress and discomfort while training.
Overall, most of us don’t require large amounts of food right before exercise. Some might, but that will require a bit of self-experimentation. Further, if you do believe that you need to have a large amount of nutrients before training, I recommend doing so spread out across multiple, smaller meals, leaving significant time before the training session to ensure adequate digestion.
How you consume protein around the workout will be your decision but regardless of what you decide, you want to make sure that you’re getting a hearty dose, either before, during or after your exercise session.
When you stimulate your muscles with resistance, this causes a number of different reactions in the body, with an increase in the rate of protein synthesis being one of the most important. This means taking amino acids and combining them to build new components of muscle that will make your muscles more defined and stronger.
If you don’t eat enough protein though, this process of protein synthesis diminishes, meaning that you’re not taking advantage of the stress induced by your workout. Eating protein helps to ensure that this process of protein synthesis continues, so you actually progress.
On either side of the workout, I recommend attempting to consume at least 30 grams of high quality protein within an hour of working out. While you might not need to consume protein immediately before or after, it’s still best practice to consume it in the general vicinity of your workout.
Lastly, your chosen method to consume this protein, whether it be whey protein or a normal protein source, is largely irrelevant. I recommend choosing the type of food that fits best with you and your preferences.
As far as BCAAs go, these are a bit different and should not be confused with whole protein sources. Yes, BCAAs do initiate the process of protein synthesis but do not contain all essential amino acids needed to sustain it. Even if you have BCAAs around the workout, you still need to ensure that you’re also consuming a complete source as well.
Consuming carbohydrates around your workout will again depend heavily on your personal preference, but also the type of exercise that you’re completing. For instance, longer, more intense workouts will require a higher amount of carbohydrates than a quick, strength-based workout will.
I mention this difference because carbs are often an issue for a lot of people. Many are afraid to consume carbohydrates out of fear of fat gain. As a result, many individuals have difficulty performing during longer, more intense workouts, when they could easily make the situation better with a few carbs.
Second, the type of carb your consume will largely depend on preference. Some people recommend slower digesting carbs to provide sustained energy. But, just like eating a large meal, this can slow digestion down during exercise, leaving you with a gut full of food.
Personally, I often opt for a faster digesting carbohydrate such as waxy maize or even dextrose, as these are rapidly absorbed and digested, providing almost immediate energy.
Mostly, the amount and type of carbohydrate you consume will be dependent on the total amount of carbs you allow yourself each day and the type and duration of your workout. The last thing you want is to forfeit a great workout because you don’t have enough fuel.
I recommend experimenting with multiple types and amounts of carbohydrates prior to, during and after your exercise sessions to determine the best method for you as an individual.
Realistically, unless you’re on a keto diet or following a Paleo diet that places emphasis on fat, then your fat intake should be kept to a minimum around the workout, simply because it’s not entirely necessary.
Depending on the type of fat you consume, this can be a bit heavy in the stomach, especially during exercise. For instance, peanut butter often takes hours to digest fully, which could cause discomfort during training.
Further, unless you’re completing a long duration workout session, focused on endurance, it’s unlikely the fat you’re consuming will contribute to fast energy production that you can use.
This suggestion is a bit different when considering MCT oil, but for the sake of this article, I still recommend keeping fat to a minimum around the workout, simply because it’s not required. Again, this suggestion may be different if you’re on keto and will depend on your preference.
Your Post Workout Meal
After you’re done working out and have your normal post-workout nutrition, you need to consider having a full, complete meal within a few hours of exercising. This ensures that you’re getting enough of the nutrition that you need to progress and take advantage of your tough workouts.
If you follow traditional eating habits (allowing for protein, carbohydrate and fat) I recommend that you have a meal that follows your normal macro distribution. For instance, if you consume 33% protein, 33% carbs and 33% fat, then your post workout meal should be comprised with the same relative percentages. This is the easiest and most effective way to ensure that you’re consuming the right amount of nutrition for your body.
Lastly, I recommend that you get a majority of this meal from whole protein sources. For instance, I don’t suggest protein shakes only. Consider saving these types of foods for times when eating regular food isn’t an option or if you’re simply hungry for a snack. Opt for whole food options for this meal if you can.
As you can see, how you should eat around your workout is a bit complicated, but once you determine the best options for you, the process gets a bit easier.
Always remember that workout nutrition will largely be based on your personal preferences and how your nutrition makes you feel and perform. If, for example, you train fasted but feel that performance suffers, there’s no inherent reason to continue training fasted.
Experiment with different ideas and use the methods of nutrition that help improve your training and life as a whole.