What should I eat before I workout? Great question, one that is asked often—especially at 6am when a client has just rolled out of bed 30 minutes before and finds him or herself wanting to puke up that hard boiled egg on the sidelines of the boot camp turf field – Oi!
Now, before I go on, this article is written under the assumption that the client reading this is already eating a clean, minimally processed, organic, balanced diet, and is training several times per week. This is paramount to your success far more than the question “apple, egg or peanut butter?”
I am also assuming that the goal of my reader is to gain muscle and burn fat. Seems to be a commonality the majority of us share around the studio! Here are some pointers that we trainers have learned along the way…
Pre-Workout Nutrient Timing
Before a training session, go for a simple carbohydrate (something high glycemic), and avoid heavy protein and fats. Protein requires a good deal of work for your digestive system. When you eat, your red blood cells pull up to your digestive tract like UPS trucks being loaded for the day’s deliveries. When you exercise, those delivery trucks have other work to do—namely bringing oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. In other words, during exercise blood flow is directed away from your digestive tracts and toward your limbs. If you eat too much before you start pushing the prowler across the runway, you are more likely to experience your body saying “get rid of this stuff! We can’t work on it right now anyway!”
What you want right before your workout is a small amount of simple carbohydrates that will give your blood sugar a boost while you are working up a healthy sweat. Here are some great, simple pre-workout carb options:
• A piece of fruit
• A vegetable, (any kind)
• A slice of sprouted grain toast with a smear of coconut oil (this fat burns easily)
• Small glass of freshly squeezed or pressed juice from carrots, lemons, spinach, apples, pears, etc.
• Coconut water
• Small portion of brown rice
• Yam or sweet potato
• Soaked oatmeal
Post-Workout Nutrient Timing
You just spent an hour tearing your muscle fibers apart…literally! Now what is the best way to help meet the needs of your body with out sabotaging your hard work?
You will need a quick serving of Protein and carbohydrates (and as much as we love our healthy fats, it is best to save it for a balanced meal later). Studies have been shown that after a vigorous workout, there is a window of about 30 minutes when the body is ready to receive nutrition and begin to immediately repair damage and replenish glycogen back into the muscle. By waiting longer than 45 minutes post-work out, your chances of your muscles optimally repairing themselves diminishes significantly.
The best source of protein post-workout is something your body can use quickly. Back to our prowler analogy: after an intense workout, the body is not focusing on digestion. All those who have done our prowler challenge say “AMEN!”
Although grass-fed meat and pastured chicken and eggs are wonderful, liquid meals become food for your muscles far faster than the time it takes to break down animal protein for delivery to your blood stream. In fact, whey protein is the fastest absorbed form of complete protein there is!
• Having a shaker bottle in your car with two scoops of (quality) protein powder is a fantastic strategy to keep you on track with your nutritional needs immediately after a work out!
• Yogurt/cottage cheese
• Dr. Mercola Whey Bites – sold in our studios
• Protein bar…We are pretty picky about our bars around here! In our researched opinion, a quality bar must be organic, free of soy, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, unidentifiable food-like substances…and if that doesn’t sum it up well enough, we will just mention soy again. A great bar is one that has super foods in it, such as pro-biotics, fucoxanthin, raw honey, fiber, chia seeds, sprouted nuts, spirulina…yum! Or make your own! (Check out – http://www.healthygreenkitchen.com/homemade-protein-bars.html)
This shirt-drenched meal should also include carbohydrates – your body needs them to restore the muscle glycogen that was depleted during your work out. If your post-workout meal doesn’t contain carbs, your body may actually break down muscle tissue for this same purpose. Carbohydrates also create an insulin spike, which helps to move nutrients into your muscle tissue quicker. This can be as simple as mixing a bit of almond milk into your shaker bottle, having a banana with your shake or a half of a bar on your way home.
Lastly, don’t expect what your friend eats around his/her workout to work perfectly for you. Use the guidelines above to experiment to find out what works best for you. Like I mentioned before, these details are secondary to the task of feeding your body adequate amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats consistently through out the day. When these things are in place and the body has the nutrition it needs when it needs it the most, your very best work out is waiting for you at the studio!
We will see you there!
By Nina Elliot, co-owner and co-founder of Health and Wholeness – a multifaceted fitness and wellness business in Arlington, Virginia featuring: Private and Semi-Private Personal Training as well as Pilates, Muscle Activation Techniques, Fitness Boot Camps, Nutrition Consultations, Acupuncture, Massage, Wellness Coaching, Infrared Sauna, Ionic Foot Soaks and more.