Pre- and Post-Exercise Nutrition: How to Get the Most Out of Your Workout Every Time

Just like anything that moves, we need fuel to get going and keep moving! But delve into the world of pre- and post-exercise nutrition and it can quickly become confusing. As we continue our healthy lifestyles well into the New Year and beyond, we thought it was a great time to provide you with an easy to follow set of principles when eating for exercise. Read on for all you need to know about pre-and post-workout nutrition. 

Fuel Your Movement 

Whether you’re an exercise novice or a fitness fanatic, it’s super important to make sure that you fuel your exercise and in the case of humans that fuel is food! What we eat doesn’t just provide us with the energy we need to exercise but it also effects how well we can perform as well as having a major impact on our recovery post-exercise. 

Physical activity is as important for our health as a good diet, so it’s super important that we link the two to make sure we get the most out of every meal and every workout! Read on for our condensed and easy-to-follow guide designed to help you do just that!  

The Basics 

This guide is intended for those who would like to be shown the ropes when it comes to nutrition and exercise. So, it should be used as a beginner’s guide rather than an expert’s handbook. For this reason, we will be focusing on real food as fuel – rather than nutritional supplements. 

When it comes to sports nutrition, things tend to get complicated once nutritional supplements are introduced. Whilst supplements are a great safety net for your diet, we don’t think they are essential to your exercise regime unless you are an aspiring athlete or serious sports person. So, we won’t be discussing sports-specific supplements or methods such as carb-loading or intermittent fasting. Instead we will be focusing on getting all you need from diet alone and good old normal food. 

Pre-Workout Nutrition 

The number one rule when it comes to pre-workout nutrition is to make sure that you have enough energy from your diet to fuel your exercise. Although research has shown that fasted workouts can have beneficial effects on some metabolic processes, it is the general consensus that these are best saved for endurance events and serious athletes. 

Good nutrition can help to maximise stamina, boost endurance and improve physical performance – ultimately helping you to get the most out of every workout. Here are our top tips for optimising pre-workout nutrition:

1. Manage your Macros – Each of the macronutrients – fat, carbs and protein – plays a specific role during a workout. Let’s take a look 

  • Carbohydrates – Stored in our muscle in the form of glycogen, which is steadily released as we use our muscles during exercise and so provides a source of fuel. Carbs provide the best fuel for short and intense workouts. 
  • Protein – Typically thought of as a post-exercise nutrient, protein has actually been shown to have a number of benefits if consumed before a workout. In fact, doing so can help to improve anabolic performance, increase lean body mass and boost strength. 
  • Fat – Provides energy which is released more slowly and so is better for longer, lower-intensity workouts. Studies have shown that high fat diets promote fat oxidation during exercise, which means that fat is used as an efficient source of fuel rather than being stored on the body. 

In summary, a balanced meal containing each of the macronutrients will help you to get the most out of your workout. If you’re having a short and intense session, then sway the balance away from fat and include more carbs. If you’re planning a longer and lower-intensity session, then include more fat than carbs. Always combine with a source of protein to enhance performance and aid recovery. 

Remember: Timing is key! Aim to eat your pre-workout meal 1-2 hours before you begin. If time is pushed, then have a lighter meal at a minimum of 30 minutes pre-workout to prevent digestive discomfort. 

2. Stay Hydrated 

There’s a reason why we get so thirsty during and after a workout! When exercising we lose sweat which is needed to maintain our core temperature but also dehydrates us. Studies have shown that optimal hydration can help to enhance performance and allow us to go harder for longer. 

Aim to drink between 500ml to 1 litre of water in the few hours before a workout, and then consciously aim to sip another 500ml within the hour preceding your workout. And remember – keep that water bottle handy for during exercise as well! 

3. Give Yourself A Natural Energy Boost 

Foods which give us a natural boost of energy and are easy to digest can help us to power through a workout as easily and efficiently as possible. Here are some simple snack ideas that provide easily absorbed energy perfect for the run up to a workout, and which can also be enjoyed on the move: 

  • Peanut Butter 

Post-Workout Nutrition 

What you eat after your workout dramatically effects how quickly your recover. Getting the right nutrients within 30 minutes to 1 hour of finishing a workout will help you to recover and replenish efficiently, bouncing back strong and ready for the next workout as quickly as possible! Here are our top tips for your post-workout nutrition routine: 

1. Protein, Protein, Protein! 

You guessed it, number on our list for optimal post-workout nutrition is protein! This nutrient may conjure up images of body builders downing jugs of raw eggs and tucking into huge steaks but this is nothing more than a stereotype. Protein comes in many different forms and is extremely important post-exercise whether you are aiming to lose weight, gain muscle or stay as perfect as you are! 

During exercise some of the protein in our muscles gets broken down and damaged. Without a ready source of dietary protein to repair this damage they will become stay sore and tender. Getting enough protein within 30 minutes of exercise will help to repair muscles, promote synthesis of new muscle fibres and also aid recovery. Here are some ideas to get some protein into you pronto after an amazing workout: 

  • Plant Power Your Workout – Nuts, seeds, plant-based milk, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, peas, beans and nutritional yeast are all great sources of vegan-friendly protein. Be sure to combine two or more plant-based proteins to get an overall complete intake of amino acids (the building blocks of protein which are harder to obtain with plants alone). 
  • Dairy – Cheese, milk and eggs are all incredibly nutrient-dense sources of protein. A cheese omelette with a dash of milk and a sprinkling of cheese is a great post-workout meal to tick all three boxes! 
  • Meat and Fish – Animal-based protein contains a ready supply of all the essential amino acids needed to synthesise protein, so all meat and fish will help you meet this macro after a workout. 
  • Protein Shakes – If you’re on the go, pushed for time or away from home, protein shakes made with powdered protein (usually from whey or pea protein) are a reliable and convenient way to get your protein fix. 

 2. Carbs Aren’t the Enemy 

During exercise the glycogen stored in muscle is depleted. You can replenish your body’s stores by consuming carbs following a workout. These carbs will accumulate and get converted to glycogen in time, so it isn’t vital to have carbs straight after a workout. However, it is important to consume carbs between workouts to replenish glycogen.  

Complex carbs which release energy slowly and efficiently are best for maintaining normal blood sugars and preventing an energy spike. Here are some examples: 

  • Quinoa
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Brown Rice 
  • Oats 
  • Wholewheat Pasta 
  • Leafy Green Veg 
  • Fresh Fruit 
  • Rice Cakes 

 3. Don’t Overdo Fat 

If you’ve had a great workout you’ve probably burned a lot of calories and so have a deficit to fill (unless you’re aiming to lose weight). So, there’s no harm done in consuming high-calorie fats after a workout. 

Trouble is fat makes it harder for your body to absorb protein and carbs from your post-workout meal. So, it’s best not to overdo fat intake after exercise or else choose easy to absorb fats such as those below: 

  • Nuts and Nut Butters 
  • Seeds 
  • Oily Fish 
  • Avocados 
  • Coconut Milk and MCT Oil

 4. Sooner Rather than Later 

The general consensus with a post-workout meal is that you should aim to eat it within 45 minutes of finishing your session. That’s because the after-effects of exercise mean that your body has an increased ability to replenish glycogen and utilise protein. Getting the right nutrition within this timeframe will help to aid recovery, prevent injury and enhance performance for your next session. 

 5. Hydration is Vital 

Just as you need to stay hydrated before and after a workout, you also need to top up your fluid levels after exercising. Your natural thirst should prompt this but always aim to drink a minimum of 1 litre of water in the hours after a workout – this is especially important if you are planning another session within 12 hours of your last.  

It really is as simple as that! When it comes to getting the most out of each and every workout, and bouncing back better and stronger each time, planning a balanced pre- and post-workout meal will help you to achieve your fitness goals! No fads or gimmicks, just real food as nature intended that will naturally energise and nourish your body. 

 Author: Stephanie Masterman @NutriNoggin 

Dated: 20/09/2019 

References 

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