Pre- or Post-Workout Meals – Top Tips to Get the Most from your Training
It’s the eternal question: would I be better off eating before or after I work out? Before? How long before? And what? After? What about burn out during training?
Digestion versus Exercise
The most important thing to remember is that when you eat, however large or small your meal, your brain directs extra blood from your muscles to your stomach to help it begin to break down and digest the food. That sleepy feeling you get after a Sunday roast is a lack of blood to your brain because it’s all in your stomach processing the food you’ve just eaten.
This is why most people recommend you eat at least two hours before you exercise to allow food to have been broken down into smaller particles and the blood supply to return to the extremities.
Eating before Exercise
Most people tend to eat something before they exercise. If exercising early in the morning a homemade smoothie full of fruit and yoghurt will give you a natural sugar high that enables you to work out on a relatively empty stomach.
If exercising at lunchtime or immediately after work, a small snack high in natural carbs and sugars like fruit and a cereal bar two hours before may be your best bet. Super-foods like goji berries and blueberries are also popular, their antioxidants helping bind free radicals released during exercise and prevent them from causing harm. Aim to find a balance of natural sugars (fruit) for quick burning and carbohydrates (from grains) for endurance training to maximise your workout.
Fasted training is where you don’t eat anything before you exercise. This refers to ancestral man’s way of life back in the Paleolithic era before the advent of farming. When meat was scarce he had to get up and hunt it down on an empty belly, regardless of hunger. It is therefore possible to train fasted, but should not be undertaken regularly or you risk burnout and hitting fitness plateaux.
If you have restricted yourself to just a snack before training, then you need to ensure you eat a good meal afterwards. What you do not want to do, however, is replace all of the calories you have just burned. Doing so gives you a nil return on the effort you have put in during your workout and will not lead to weight loss.
Instead, eat a healthy meal of protein and vegetables. The protein will help repair and strengthen your muscles and the vitamins in the vegetables will bind free radicals and prevent them causing damage. Greens such as spinach and broccoli are full of calcium and iron, helping to strengthen red blood cells and bones that may have suffered impact during training. Also, naturally-occurring carbohydrates in vegetables will replace some of the energy you expended during your workout and help you recover and feel fresh.
Large intakes of fat in the immediate aftermath of exercise should be avoided, as these slow the metabolism, which remains elevated for several hours after exercise, meaning you continue to burn calories at an accelerated rate.
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As always, getting detailed advice on aspects of diet and fitness is very important. When finding a gym near you to join, it is advisable to ask the staff whether any of them have nutritional qualifications or experience. Having someone close at hand who can advise you every step of the way will help you reach your fitness goals and work out whether pre- or post-workout meals are right for you