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What To Eat Before and After You Workout

Saturday, July 14, 2012

This is a subject that brings a lot of confusion, and understandably so. Thankfully, there is a short answer: Protein and Carbs.

Both protein and carbs work in conjunction to both fuel and repair your muscles. Easy 'nuff, right?

But there are a few additional things that may come in handy to know:

- First of all, fat intake slows digestion. So if you want to eat before your workout to fuel you a little fat is Okay (although not necessary), because it keeps you from blowing through the nutrients quickly and running out of steam before your workout is done. For me, this typically is a whole egg and three or four egg whites scrambled together along with 1/3 C of plain (not instant- bad for you!) dry oatmeal, cooked. The fat is in the egg yolk. However, after a work out it would be ideal (not necessary, but ideal) to keep fat intake to a minimum so that the carbs and protein can get into your muscles as quickly as possible. Whey protein is a very fast digesting protein and the carbs in fruit are also a quickly-digesting sugar. So if you have a scoop of whey mixed in water or skim milk and a banana on the way home from the gym you can fuel your body optimally.

- If you work out later in the day and eat meals every 3 hours or so that have both protein and carbs in them, you really don't need to worry too much about what you eat before or after you work out, because your body has both nutrients already continually fueling it.

- If you work out first thing in the morning, you need to give it a little more thought. At this point, it becomes more about personal goals and how much food you can stomach before a workout. For instance, if you are someone who is interested in burning fat, there is a school of thought that says doing cardio on an empty stomach burns more fat. The reason for this is that, presumably, there is little glycogen in the cells and the system goes strait to fat for fuel. (I'm doubtful about this for reasons that will take another blog, but for now let's assume it is a likelihood that you do indeed burn more fat doing cardio on an empty tummy.) This would, of course, be best accomplished first thing in the morning.

However, if you want to do your strength training at the same time of day as your cardio, you stand the potential of running into a problem, because you may not have enough energy to lift weights to your maximum capacity without something in your system to fuel you. I've seen some fitness competitors manage this by doing the cardio on an empty stomach, then eating a little something right in the gym and proceeding on to weight lifting.

For me personally the solution is to eat a full breakfast and wait about an hour before lifting (it takes me that long after I've eaten to get my household in order and myself driven to the gym). I do my weight lifting first, while I am at my freshest and I have the most energy (it's always a priority for me over cardio,anyhow). Then, after my muscles have had a chance to deplete some of the glycogen from the carbs from lifting, I go on to my cardio.

If you are someone who gets an upset stomach if you eat anything before you work out..... well, Duh! Don't eat! :-D

- As a last point, I'd like to express that if you don't do any/all/some of this, please don't think your workout is a waste. The truth is that most, if not all, of this is splitting hairs. The important thing is that you both exercise and eat clean (minimal processed foods). Period. If you are a fitness competitor or model these things can add up to make the difference that gets you the trophy or translates best for the camera lens. For the rest of us, these are good things to know but not necessary rules to live by.

The truth is that for the everyday person, eating clean and training dirty is enough. Your body will thank you!
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