Workout Nutrition: What To Eat Before And After Workouts

By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

Muscles are made in your kitchen, not in your gym. This doesn’t mean you should stop training. This means you need to take a look at what’s in your refrigerator as well as what you put in your body before and after your workouts.

Your mother taught you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That held some truth behind it when you were a kid. However, mom wasn’t talking to you, the athlete. Nutrition has a whole new meaning when it comes to your training sessions. What you put in your body before, during, and after training, known as peri-workout nutrition, directly affects the gains you make and how well you recovery.

Pre-workout nutrition
What you eat before your workout can impact your performance. Fasted cardio sessions, or training when your last meal was 5 hours ago can leave your muscles starving for energy. When they don’t have proper fuel, they turn to protein reserves for energy. Wait, did you need those protein stores for muscle growth?

When referring to pre-workout nutrition, it’s not the supplements you slam down as you walk through the gym door. You need a simple meal (liquid if possible) consisting mainly of simple carbohydrates, 1 to 1.5 hours before you train. Liquid amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful as well.

The break down is simple:

  • Your body relies on the glycogen stores provided by carbohydrates for energy.
  • Protein provides amino acids, which are the building blocks for muscle growth.
  • Fats support healthy blood sugar levels and slow digestion, keeping your body fueled longer.

So, what should you eat before you train?
At least 1 hour before exercise, focus on simple foods like fresh fruit such as an apple or banana to increase your blood sugar levels and reduce the amount of glycogen used during exercise.

Post-workout nutrition
Training leaves your muscles torn, your glycogen depleted, and your body in a state of catabolism (protein breakdown). The only way to stop this process is by feeding your body what it needs. In fact, the best time to uptake nutrients is directly after your workout.

Eating directly after you train increases protein synthesis by over 100%, stores glycogen twice as effectively, and increasing growth hormone and insulin sensitivity. Growth hormone and insulin, along with testosterone, are essential hormones for muscle growth. Taking in carbohydrates after a workout elevates the levels of these hormones, maintaining your body in an anabolic state, and balancing your nitrogen levels.

Post workout nutrition should mimic what you eat before training, with a slight increase of calories. Additionally, 50% of your daily caloric intake should happen around your workouts: 20% before, and 30% after.

Remember that proper hydration is also important for your workouts. Drink at least 2 liters of water a day to keep your muscles and organs well hydrated and properly functioning.


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