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Pre and Post Workout Nutrition

May 3, 2021

What you eat before and after a workout can dramatically impact your performance and progress over time, but the optimal nutrient ratio and timing of intake varies from person to person. There is no such thing as a one size fits all approach to nutrition, and the only way to figure out what works best for your body is trial and error within a framework of basic nutrition. So today, let’s talk about some basic sports nutrition guidelines for you to start with.

Let’s begin with the pre-workout meal. Whatever you eat before your workout should be a meal designed to fuel you. Our body’s favorite source of energy is glucose, which means a high carbohydrate meal is going to be your best bet for an energy source pre-workout. This meal or snack should be consumed 1 to 3 hours before your workout. Some people like to eat their pre-workout meal close to their workout, other people like to give their food a few hours to digest before they workout. This is completely a matter of preference. I always suggest that my clients try both and see which they prefer.

What about fasted workouts? Exercising while fasted has become a trend that many people use to achieve weight loss. I never suggest fasted exercise for a variety of reasons:

1. The research just still isn’t there to support this as a weight loss method. In most studies, the fasted group and the fed group achieve the same or very similar results. In fact, several studies have actually found the fed groups to have a more favorable outcome because they have more energy to perform better.

2. If you are looking to improve your strength or physique or build muscle, fasted exercise is going to do the opposite. Your body is deprived of glucose, its preferred energy source. This could easily lead to muscle breakdown.

3. Fasted exercise can be dangerous. Under-eating and over-exercising can cause illness, fatigue, and injury.

Now let’s move on to intra workout. The hour before exercise many people prefer not to eat anything so that they do not feel bloated or heavy during exertion, which is completely okay! Other people do like to have something light right before exercise, which is okay too. Consuming anything within the hour before exercise can be a gamble though. You’re going to want to choose an easily digestible option. Fats and proteins are much harder to digest than carbs, so the closer to your workout you get, the less of these you’re going to want to be consuming. During a workout if you need additional fuel (typically this is only the case for extended cardio like a long distance run or bike ride) strictly carbohydrate sources like gels will be your best bet. Most people, however, will not need additional fuel intra-workout.

Now for our final topic: post-workout. The jury is still out on protein intake post workout. We know that protein absorption is higher for 24 hours following a workout. Whether it is higher immediately following a workout and fizzles out through time is uncertain. Some research does suggest that within the first hour after exercise protein absorption is at its highest. Assuming this is the case, getting a good protein source immediately following exercise could be extremely beneficial. Don’t forget how important carbs are immediately after exercise as well! Remember that carbs are our bodies favorite source of energy, so during a workout they are used up. Proper recovery requires us to replace these carbs. The general recommendation for carbs and protein post workout is a carb to protein ratio of 3:1.

Eat well, progress forward, and come back next week to learn more about nutrition!

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