Last week we discussed how to build a healthy nutrition program outside of the gym. Being consistent with what you are doing while you are not training was the focus. Once you have this figured out then you should look at what foods to eat before and after exercising to improve performance and to attain your goals.
First let’s cover the purpose of pre and post training nutrition. In a nutshell, the food around training should provide fuel for your body, aid in the recovery process, help improve future performance and provide hydration. Protein, the building blocks for our body, is the food source that helps preserve and build lean muscle mass. It is also is what our body uses to repair the muscles post workout. Carbohydrates are what will provide fuel and will restore the glycogen (stored fuel) in our muscles and liver. Fats some say have no impact on performance but because they do slow the digestion process, they will help sustain a stable blood sugar while exercising. This in turn helps to keep your energy level on an even keel during intense activity. By eating a normal well balanced meal within 1-2 hours before and after your training session will provide the necessary nutrients for the average, healthy person.
A common question from the morning exerciser is “Should I train on an empty stomach?” Well, that depends on how you feel and the intensity of the exercise. If you have eaten well the day before and are going to be exercising for an hour of moderate to high intensity then hydration is most important. Sleeping all night depletes our hydration status more than the fuel in our body. We all wake up in a mild state of dehydration that can hinder performance. It is best to drink a bottle of water prior to leaving for the gym and take another with you to drink while exercising. If you become nauseous, lack energy or strength while training on an empty stomach then have a light snack as well. After your session consume your well-balanced breakfast of lean protein, smart carbs and veggies not doughnuts from the local bakery! As with all pre-workout nutrition choose foods that agree with your stomach or you will suffer the consequence.
For those of you who choose to exercise after working all day will probably need a small snack before hitting the gym. For example, if you eat a well-balanced lunch at noon and will be headed to the gym at 4 for a weight lifting session, a protein shake made with water, handful of spinach and thumb full of nuts might be in order. Then go home and eat a balanced meal post workout. Base your carbohydrate needs on your goals. If you desire to lose weight then your carbohydrates need to be less than those who have the goal of mass gain. Regardless, it is not necessary to eat refined carbohydrates until you are stuffed after exercise to have results. Eventually this type of behavior will lead to poor performance and body composition.
Now for those who are endurance athletes, into bodybuilding or looking to improve athletic performance, you do have special needs when it comes to nutrition. Training for a marathon or trying to put on serious mass requires more carbs and more calories. If you are spending a great deal of time in the gym and intensely exercising trying to lean down to single digit body fat will need less carbohydrates. It would be best to hire a coach to help you come up with a plan in these situations so you can achieve your goals while making it easier for you.
Let’s face it nutrition is confusing. For most of us who are just looking to get healthy, feel better and look good it doesn’t have to be. Now that you understand how foods support you during exercise and recovery spend time experimenting to find what works best for you. Don’t fear that you will do damage by not downing a protein shake immediately following your workout. Just eat well outside of the gym, keep in mind when you ate last, have a small snack if it’s been longer than 2 hours since your last meal and get to the gym. Post exercise if you can’t go home to eat your meal, bring along a protein shake and a piece of fruit to have then eat dinner within 2 hours of your session. Keep things simple but be consistent. Ask for help if you have more ambitious goals so you will have the proper guidance to get you there.