As we begin to turn our attentions to our summer holidays, there’s very little that will get in the way of our workout regime. Yet what we eat before training (pre-workout nutrition) and what we eat after (post-workout nutrition) can have an impact on our training session and our overall progress. Technically, it should be easier than ever to get the food we need to fuel our habits, for pre- and post-workout meals, shakes and bars are increasingly available. Sales of functional nutrition bars alone have increased by almost 400% since 2010.
But just what should we be eating before and after we get down to business? Sophie Thurner, a registered nutritionist and qualified personal trainer, explains…
“If you have a meal before you work out, it should consist of carbohydrates, to increase muscle glycogen and allow time to fatigue, and protein, to reduce muscle protein break down when working out. Whether you have this in liquid form or as a solid meal/snack depends on your personal preference and how much time you have before your workout. If you have an hour or less, it is advisable to have a shake (sip it, don’t drink it all in one go, otherwise you will run the risk of gastro-intestinal discomfort. If you have more time, you may prefer a meal/snack, ideally to be taken two-three hours prior to the workout.
“There are some supplements that will improve your performance when taken before your session. The most commonly researched and consumed is coffee; a cup of coffee before your workout or as part of a pre-workout shake can enhance the way our muscles use energy – sparing glycogen reserves – can temporarily increase strength, and speed up recovery post-workout, if taken in combination with carbohydrates as it accelerates the rate of glycogen replenishment (important if you work out frequently).
“Another useful supplement is magnesium; this is involved in many different aspects of muscle function and exercise including energy productions, oxygen uptake, muscle contraction, muscle relaxation and electrolyte balance. Some of us do not get enough magnesium in our diets and low levels may impair physical performances and exercise capacity, and this is associated with muscle damage and cramps.”
“Any food consumed after you’ve worked out should ideally consist of carbohydrates (to replenish muscle glycogen thereby enhancing recovery) and protein (to enhance muscle recovery and muscle protein synthesis post-exercise). Think 20-25g of high-quality protein, which would be sufficient to stimulate maximal protein synthesis; high quality means easily absorbed protein that contains all essential amino acids. Generally speaking, animal-based protein, such as dairy, eggs, meat and fish, covers that more easily, however a vegan protein shake or a meal containing beans, legumes, pulses and wholegrains will get you there too.
“The post-workout meal should ideally be eaten within two hours of the workout; maximal recovery and repair would be achieved if eating within 30-45 minutes of finishing your workout. Having a balanced meal is always preferred. This is because you take in additional micro-nutrients and other important components. Fibre is essential, not only to feed the good bacteria in your gut, but also to provide roughage to encourage bowel movements. It has also been shown to increase feelings of satiety. A solid meal digests more slowly, meaning it will keep you feeling full for longer, while eating regular solid meals encourages healthy eating patterns; sitting down to have a proper meal has shown results in high meal satisfaction than consuming an on-the-go shake. The act of chewing is part of a well-functioning digestion process and releases important digestive enzymes such as amylase.
“It’s therefore advisable to opt for solid food rather than a shake. If you are unable to have a meal post-workout due to time and convenience, it is possible to wait longer. As long as daily caloric needs are met across the 24-hour day period, your body will get everything it needs to perform as optimally as you can.”