There are so many arguments about what are the best foods to eat before and after a workout, and there are so many people with a set idea of eating or drinking certain things after working out with no room to change or try anything different. You don’t have to change everything you’re doing, if it currently works then carry on, but do not be afraid to try something different and experiment.
Here we will have a look at the different foods and drinks that you can consume before and after a workout and what could work best.
We must also remember that your specific goal, be it muscle building or weight loss, as well as YOUR own body type and weight will determine what you eat and more importantly HOW MUCH of each macro-nutrient you eat, not only for your pre and post workout meals, but also for every single meal you eat throughout the day.
Pre workout Nutrition
Let’s start with pre workout nutrition. When you weight train you exert a lot of energy, and thus your body will need energy, so do not be scared to eat some carbohydrates before training, even when dieting down.
Photo credit: Your House Fitness
There are 2 types of pre workout meals, depending on the time of day you train. These are:
- Your first meal of the day, i.e. breakfast. So if you workout first thing in the morning this will act as your ‘breakfast’ pre workout meal.
- If you train in the afternoon or evening, then the meal you eat directly prior to your training will be your ‘during the day’ pre workout meal.
For both options, the best is to have a balanced meal containing protein, some complex carbohydrates as well as some fat about an hour or an hour and a half before you workout. You do not want to have too big of a meal and anything too heavy which will cause your stomach discomfort while you exercise.
You could alternatively have a protein shake, but the reason I wouldn’t recommend taking a shake or any liquid form of food before working out is so that you can keep fuller throughout your training. I have experimented with both and tend to become very hungry during my workout if I have a protein shake (even with some carbohydrates) and this can sometimes affect my energy and strength levels.
BUT on the other hand there are many people who would rather not eat anything before their workout as they become uneasy and their stomach does not handle the food well while they are training. If this is you, don’t worry, maybe try a protein shake or some form of liquid shake and see if you can manage that to start off with.
For the first option, the breakfast pre workout meal, here is an example of a meal you could have:
- 2 slices whole-wheat toast/Bowl of oats
- 1 banana
- Small protein Shake/1 Tsp of peanut butter
This is a great combination of protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fat to get you started for the day and get you going for your early morning workout.
For the second option, the during the day pre workout meal, we will assume you would have eaten at least one or two other meals already throughout the day. So in an effort to not complicate things, an example of a simple meal could be:
- 1 Apple
- A portion of chick peas/butter beans
- A portion of rice/Sweet potatoes/Cous cous
Post workout Nutrition
After a strenuous and intense exercise session, your body (and muscles) needs nutrients and amino acids to help them repair and recover, so the sooner you feed your muscles after training the better.
For post workout, I recommend a liquid meal FIRST (straight after your gym session). The reason being the liquid will digest quicker than a full meal, and you want to get the nutrients to your muscles as quick as possible to start the recovery and growth process. Then about an hour and a half to two hours after your liquid meal, you can eat a whole food meal consisting of protein and carbohydrates.
So lets start with the liquid meal. The easiest option is to take a protein shake. Mix some whey protein with some water or even better with some milk. To this you can also add some simple carbohydrates, such as apple juice or just plain glucose. There are many studies showing that taking in a simple carbohydrate source will ‘spike’ your insulin, driving more nutrients into your muscles. But honestly I believe you can use almost any carb source, even a low gi source like oats. There is also a few studies showing that, by consuming your protein first, then after a few minutes, taking in your carbohydrates, will elevate your growth hormone levels. Something to think about.
I have experimented with a few things regarding a post workout meal. I wanted to see if I would experience any different or beneficial results by consuming different things.
I tried each of these for a few months:
1. Whey protein with glucose
2. Whey protein with oats
I never saw or felt much of a difference, thus the reason I stated you can use almost any carb source.
I then tried this:
1. Whey protein
2. Plain organic full cream milk (about 500 – 800 ml)
3. Whole food meal (Rice/Potatoes and Chicken/Fish)
With this, I really wanted to see if the benefits of this ‘post workout whey shake’ would over power drinking just plain milk or eating a normal whole food meal after a workout. Again I never saw or felt much of a difference.
The one problem with marketing nowadays is that many people have been bombarded (by supplement companies) with the idea that after training the ONLY thing you MUST consume is a protein shake.
Has it ever happened that you came home after gym, and forgot you had run out of whey protein? With all hell braking loose, you jumped in your car and raced to the nearest pharmacy to pick up some whey protein in order to have your ‘post workout shake’ in time, so you do not miss that perfect ‘window of opportunity.’
By all means if you can get your hands on some rice/pea protein, it’s a good thing to have post workout as it does contain all the branch chain amino acids you need as well as glutamine to help you recover. But if not or if your whey suddenly finishes, do not worry so much and run around screaming, just blend your own smoothie with fruit and peanut butter (you can use soya milk or almond milk with it) OR alternatively just eat a whole food meal.
After training, your muscles have been severely strained and broken down so they will absorb a lot of what you feed them, even if you think it’s going to take ages to digest. Too often people tend to over complicate things. Keep things simple.