Peri–Workout Nutrition: How and Why to Plan Nutrition Around Your Workouts
The following is an excerpt from my new ebook, Simplify–It “Diet”. If you’re picking up what I’m putting down, click the book title to purchase or gift a downloadable copy.
Da hail does at mean?!
It’s the fancy term for nutrition around the time of your workout and is known to be crucial for improving performance and recovery. Even if you’re not an athlete, this is still VERY important. I’ve seen the following scenario way too often:
A client comes in for his or her workout, seemingly normal and ready to go. We’re about 10 or 15 minutes into the session, already sitting down and I’m making sure the client doesn’t pass out. I had to make several next-door runs for chocolate milk or grab a banana from my lunchbox to help them get the blood sugar up. Sometimes, it’s just a bottle of water to bring their blood pressure up. Feeling like crap shortly into a workout is typically the result of one or the other, both which can be prevented by having a good meal/snack before working out OR once you start. In most of these cases, the client hasn’t eaten or had anything to drink for the 6/7/8 or more hours prior. It doesn’t help that there’s this myth floating around that working out on an empty stomach burns more fat. It doesn’t do anything if you can’t get through the workout!
Fix it with PRE workout nutrition
My recommendation is eating a meal/snack one to three hours before a workout. The bigger the meal, the longer you’ll want to wait – and vice versa. You’ll also want to consider the type of workout you’ll be doing. A 30-minute treadmill walk will not be as exerting and thus require less fuel than a 45-minute high intensity personal training session.
A quality pre-workout feeding includes a slower acting carbohydrate and a good source of lean protein. The reason I say lean protein is because you want to keep fat intake relatively low during the pre-workout window. You’ll also want to keep fiber intake low and for the same reason… fat and fiber both s l o w down digestion and pull water into your digestive tract. We want fuel that’s easy to assimilate and water sent to the soon-to-be-working muscles. I recommend having just a small amount of fat so that your blood sugar doesn’t go up and down too quickly. You don’t want to be feeling hungry before you workout.
So, what should I eat!?
Here are some examples, ordered from smaller/quick energy snack to a bigger meal for more energy demanding sports or activities:
protein bar / shake
apple with peanut butter
Greek yogurt with granola
Chipotle bowl with rice, meat, and salsa (or rice/beans/salsa for plant-based)
Just note that the quantity depends on your numbers! To give you an idea, it’s good to consume protein in evenly divided servings throughout the day with one of those at this time (usually around 20-40g). About 20% of your carb intake is a good guideline here, and try limiting fat to < 10g at this time.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT WATER! You should be drinking 1-3 cups of water with this meal, again, more or less depending on the size of it.
Intra-workout refers to during an exercise session and is more popular and important to the athlete community and those who train extremely hard. Think of it as gassing up during a long road trip.
Intra-workout is a time that you want extremely FAST acting nutrients in the form of protein components (amino acids) and readily useable carbohydrates. I won’t elaborate now but will include a few good supplements in the Appendix section. Whole food is simply t o o s l o w for during a workout.
One thing to be aware of –referring back to my cautionary tale– is that intra-workout nutrition can save you if you didn’t consume proper pre-workout nutrition, so, it may be worth considering for non-athletes if you often forget to eat before you workout.
And again, DON’T FORGET ABOUT WATER! You should be sipping water throughout the entirety of your workout, especially if you’re in warm weather or someone who sweats a lot.
POST workout nutrition
Post workout nutrition is absolutely crucial! If you’re looking to build muscle and/or increase performance and recovery, you simply cannot afford to botch it. Your body is primed for nutrient uptake and replenishment following a hard workout and if you don’t provide it with quality fuels, you may be taking steps backwards.
You’ll read all different opinions and studies on the “post workout window” and how quickly following a workout you should refuel, the only real consensus being ASAP. Liquid form is much faster acting and the most advantageous time of day to do a protein shake (with or without carbs depending on your goal).
I believe the best practice is to consume a post workout shake immediately following strenuous exercise; within 15 minutes if you need to apply a number. Then, about one to two hours later, consume a quality whole food meal containing protein, carbohydrates, and fats. This is the best time of day to have your biggest meal. If I know I’m going out to dinner with friends or family I’ll try and time my workouts for a couple hours prior.
It should be noted that there’s nothing wrong with whole food after a workout, just be aware that it will not be digested quickly due to blood flow and bodily efforts just being drawn away from the gut and to working skeletal muscles. This is one reason why some people aren’t hungry right after a workout.