How should YOU prepare for your workouts?
Better yet, how should you recover from those workouts?
This post is all about structuring your meals around your workouts. As a nutrition coach, this is the only time I actually “require” a meal. I don’t give out meal plans. Instead, I let my clients structure their meals with what works best for them and their lives. The only suggestion I give is that meal before they workout and the meal immediately following.
PRE-WORKOUT (1-2 hours pre-training):
You should eat a meal that is a 1:1 ratio of protein to carbs with a small amount of fats. I typically recommend 30g protein and 30g carbohydrates. The closer you are to eating before training, choose foods that are low in fiber and have a higher glycemic index. We want optimal digestion. Too much fats and we digest the food too slowly and don’t get the adequate benefit from that meal. Too much fiber and we’ve now accelerated our digestive system and we don’t have too long before our food has passed through us fully digested.
Why carbs pre-workout? We need the energy!! We need that spike in blood sugar because this is what triggers the production of fuel for our workouts. Our bodies convert glucose to ATP allowing us to get through a workout.
Why protein? We want to prevent muscle breakdown when we train. Most exercise is a stressor on your body and does cause some muscle breakdown. If we supply our bodies with a steady supply of protein through out the day (every 3-4 hours), then we are always able to resynthesize new protein to replace damaged muscle. When we deprive our bodies of protein, our muscles experience more damage. We can prevent this by consuming protein at every meal.
Do not wake up at 3am to eat a well-balanced meal to get to the gym at 5am. We’re going to train fasted. If you are a-okay with this, then great. If you want a little boost, this is where I’d bring in our supplement discussion from last week and get you taking 5-10g BCAAs 10-15 minutes before you start training. This gives you a good boost and cushion to train and maintain your energy levels. Remember BCAAs lower your time to exhaustion AND your rate of perceived exertion, meaning you can go harder longer. What is more important for our morning trainees is the meal the night before. This is your pre-workout meal so make sure you’ve got a 1:1-1.5 ratio of protein to carbs (30g protein and 30-45g carbs) with a healthy serving of fat. Make sure you’re not filling your dinner (and maybe dessert) with junk because this is going to directly affect your performance the next day.
POST-WORKOUT (30-90 minutes post-training)
We will talk about a post-workout meal first before going into potential post-workout shakes and supplementation.
Your post-workout meal should be AT LEAST 1:1 ratio of protein to carbs. If you are in a high intensity sport, you’re going to want to take that carb ratio up to 1.5 or even 2 (so double your carbs compared to the amount of protein). If you’re eating 30g protein, then you’re eating as little as 30g to as much as 60g of carbohydrates. This meal can contain fats and fibers as long as it’s not too much. We still want proper digestion.
Why carbs post-workout? We just expended a TON of energy and fuel. Remember that in a workout, glycogen is our main form of fuel for these high-intensity sports. We need to replenish this ASAP or else our body starts taking glycogen stored in our muscles, which promotes muscle degradation. Also, most importantly, exercise is a stressor to your body. It is a necessary stressor and we need it, but either way, exercise will increase levels of cortisol in your body. You’ve been forcing your body into the active sympathetic nervous system mode. We need to get those cortisol levels down and move into the parasympathetic nervous system. How? Carbohydrates shut off the cortisol response and move you out of sympathetic mode into parasympathetic mode. If we don’t shut down cortisol, our adrenaline levels stay elevated and we start overworking our adrenal system. When we get ready to go to sleep, cortisol is preventing the release of melatonin, meaning you won’t sleep well. Lack of sleep will cause muscle breakdown even more!
Why protein? Same as pre-workout. We need to keep a steady supply of protein in our body to keep it functioning normal and prevent any muscle breakdown.
If you train in a high-intensity sport that jacks up cortisol and get’s you going, you may desire an extra boost for recovery. I would encourage you to try adding a post workout shake 0-15 minutes post-workout of 1 scoop protein powder + 1 scoop highly branched cyclic dextrin (discussed in last week’s blog). This shuts down that cortisol response even quicker and gets you entering that recovery mode even sooner. It’s also perfect for those individuals who end up having to wait a little longer before eating that post-workout meal.
That sums up how we are fueling ourselves for our workouts. Prioritize these meals first then make the rest of the day how you want it. Eat your meals with what works best for your schedule and give yourself time to add in these necessary meals. If you train at lunch time, eat a mid-morning snack for your pre-workout meal and let your lunch be your post-workout meal. If you train in the evening, eat a normal lunch then eat a mid-afternoon snack and let your post-workout meal be your dinner. It doesn’t have to be complicated!