We all are aware that what we eat is of great consequence for a robust immune system, good health, and to provide energy for performance & recovery from workouts.

Proper nutrition can:

  1. Improve performance
  2. Enhance muscle power
  3. Boost strength and endurance
  4. Decrease risk of injuries
  5. Improve recovery

What & when to eat is one of the most favorite subjects of the nutritionists & dietitians to talk about!

Does the timing of our meals & what we eat (before, during and after workout) affect our performance & recovery?

The long-standing advice in the realm of sports & fitness nutrition is that what we eat & when we eat, in fact, affect our & training goals – whether losing fat or gaining muscle & strength or whatever.

There has been a lot of research on the nutrient-timing recommendations, but most of them have been done on different categories of athletes across the various types of sports such as running, cycling, swimming, weight training, etc. Therefore, the recommendations given below will help us more as guidelines, and should not be taken as strict rules.

What to Eat Before Workout?

The primary objective of eating before a workout session is to supply adequate fuel to sustain our energy level that your body needs all through the workout session so that you achieve your training goals. Carbohydrate-rich foods/drinks help replenish glycogen stores, while protein can help to retain muscle mass. A meal that has a combination of these two macros (carbs + protein) is the best pre-workout. High-fat meals/snacks are as a rule not recommended prior to a workout session because fat is digested slowly, which leaves most people feeling sluggish.

What Time Do You Exercise – The Most Important Consideration For Deciding Pre-Workout!

What time during the day we exercise does impact what should we eat before an exercise session. Our meal-timing strategy really depends on when we exercise – whether first thing in the morning, mid-day or in the evening.

In case the work out session is first thing in the morning, you don’t have enough time to eat & allow the food to properly digest. Since liquid digests quickly, you may consider having a small smoothie as a pre-workout meal. But, if your experience is that any type of food doesn’t go well with you at such a time, it is better to eat nothing. Many people say that working out in a fasted state helps burn more body fat. Actually, it’s a matter of personal choice.  

Another key factor is the type & duration of exercise session that you are going to do. If you intend to perform an endurance workout session (for more than sixty minutes) or high-intensity interval-training (HIIT) session, you will be subject to higher risk of glycogen depletion & fatigue during exercise. Under these circumstances, workout meals become important, and accordingly you may consider having a drink with 30-60 grams of carbs every hour during the prolonged workout session.

If we exercise later in the day, we can time our meals to ensure adequate supply of fuel to perform at our best. The greater the time gap between our meal and the workout session, the bigger our meal can be. If we have one hour until our gym session, a meal or snack having 1 gram (per kg body weight) of carbs is recommended. If we have 2 hours until our workout session, we may take two grams (per kg body weight) of carbs. With 3 to 4 hours until our workout, a meal containing even 3-4 grams (per kg body weight) of carbs will work well. Including fifteen to twenty grams of protein in our pre-workout meal can help us with blood sugar control, preserve or increase muscle mass, and reduce muscle damage during the workout.

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What to Eat After We Workout?

The objective of a post-workout meal is to help us refuel, rehydrate, recover, gain muscle mass & improve future performance. Many dieticians & sports nutrition experts discuss about the post-workout “anabolic window of opportunity” when referring to the fuel needs. After workout, there is a surge in blood flow & increase in insulin sensitivity, which help uptake of glucose & glycogen re-synthesis. This supports the view that the hour immediately after we workout is the time when our body is in great need of nutrients, so eating proper meal at this time can facilitate refueling & tissue repair better than if we wait. More recent studies have found that this window of opportunity is in fact much longer than what was earlier thought, so immediate guzzling down of a protein shake is not necessary.

A post-workout meal containing fifteen to 25 grams of protein (for tissue repair) & one to two grams (per kg body weight) of carbs per hour of “glycogen-depleting” workout provides better results. For satiation, add five to ten grams of fat. Actually, you don’t have to worry about whether to eat protein powder vs. whole foods & type of carbs (high-glycemic vs. low-glycemic). What you need to aim for is a proper well-balanced meal comprising of a variety of real, whole foods & ample amount of fluid. It would work as an ideal post-workout meal that you can eat without going into calculations.

Read this to learn Ideal Macros (Protein, Carbs, Fat) Composition of Meals

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Hydration A Vital Factor!

We should aim for consuming adequate liquid in the form water (or herbal tea, coffee, milk, juice—yes, they all count towards water intake) and eat enough of fruits & vegetables to keep our body well hydrated, otherwise our muscles will fatigue faster, our coordination will be poor, and we will be at the risk of developing muscle cramps. Moreover, our body will not properly regulate its core temperature, leading to an increase in core body temperature – causing overheating & exhaustion.

Keeping yourself hydrated is a whole-day concern. Begin your day with at least eight to sixteen ounces of water and sip it often all through the day. Consuming at least thirty-two ounces of water during your workout session will keep you sufficiently hydrated. Workout duration of more than one hour &/or performed in high heat & humidity needs additional fluid intake. If you feel a need, you might consider taking of electrolytes to compensate what you lose in sweat.

The Take Away

What and when we eat really makes a huge difference to our performance and recovery. Proper well-balanced meals & adequate fluid are vital for production of energy, recovery process, injuries prevention and growth.

Both meal timing & composition have to be individualized depending on the exerciser’s age, gender, body type and also on the type, intensity, duration & frequency of the workouts.

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