An overall healthy lifestyle begins when you put 80% of the effort into diet and 20% into exercise. Many experts (medical and fitness alike) have proven that it is possible to change your body composition with diet alone. That being said, it is the combination of diet and exercise working in tandem that promotes the best health. Continue reading to learn how you can get the most out of your activity by implementing healthy changes to your diet.
The best meals to eat before a workout concentrate on fueling your body and promoting muscle growth and recovery. This is achieved by eating foods rich in protein, healthy fats, and carbs. Now, you may be thinking that eating carbs before a workout is a contradicting suggestion as eating carbs tends to be dieting’s biggest “no-no.” But, in all honesty, your body needs carbs, especially when you’re working out.
Carbohydrates are the body’s easiest and quickest fuel source – not to mention the brain’s preferred source of energy. They are crucial for high endurance training and explosive strength. If you need to be quick on your feet or lift heavy objects, you need carbs. In fact, it can be difficult to complete an intense lifting or cardio session when your body is low on carbs. This is because the carbs you eat are used either for immediate energy (glucose) or a reserve energy source (glycogen). There are two main types of carbs that you can use to support your training.
Quick carbs – Quick carbs come from simple sugars (juice, honey, sports drinks) that are digested quickly, resulting in immediate energy.
Slow carbs – Slow carbs come from starchy or fibrous foods (whole grains, beans, pasta, potatoes), making them harder to digest and resulting in a source of long-lasting energy.
Healthy fats are also a desirable source of long-term energy. Similar to slow carbs, fat can take time to digest before becoming available for fuel. This results in most fat burned during exercising coming from stored body fat, not dietary fat.
Unlike carbs and fats, protein is not a good source of energy. However, it serves as another important factor in boosting your performance in the gym. Not only have studies shown that protein in the form of pre-workout consumption improves overall performance, but eating protein before exercise has been shown to increase muscle growth, recovery, increased strength, and lean body mass.
Likewise, after a workout, the foods you should be eating are full of protein, healthy fats, and carbs. This is because all three work to replenish lost nutrients and aid in recovery.
Through exercise, the breakdown of muscle protein is triggered. By consuming protein after a workout, you give your body the amino acids it needs to repair and build new muscle tissue. In fact, adding protein post-workout is how your muscles get stronger and potentially bigger, through a process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS). It is recommended that you consume 0.14-0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight after a workout.
The glycogen stores in your body are used as fuel when you are exercising. One of the benefits of consuming carbs after working out is replenishing these stores of energy. Additionally, insulin secretion, which promotes glycogen synthesis, is best stimulated when carbs and protein are consumed simultaneously. It is recommended that 0.5-0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight are eaten within 30 minutes after training to promote proper glycogen resynthesis.
And while consuming fat may slow down the absorption of your post-workout meal, it does not reduce its benefits. For example, a study done by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that whole milk had a higher efficiency at promoting muscle growth after a workout than the fat-free alternative skim milk. Another study found that even if you consume a high-fat meal after working out, the muscle glycogen synthesis was not affected.
MEALS TO EAT BEFORE WORKING OUT
Looking for simple but nutritious meals to eat before hitting the gym? Try one of these options.
- Chicken, rice, and steamed vegetables
- A protein smoothie
- An apple or other fruit with nut butter
- Whole grain toast, peanut butter (or nut butter), and banana slices
- Baked salmon, brown rice, and roasted veggies
- Oatmeal, berries, and protein powder bowl
- Scrambled eggs, veggies, and avocado
- Greek yogurt, berries, and granola
MEALS TO EAT AFTER WORKING OUT
Looking for simple but nutritious meals that help muscle growth and recovery? Try one of these options.
- Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables
- Salmon with sweet potato
- Tuna salad sandwich on whole-grain bread
- Steamed trout with sauteed spinach and brown rice
- Omelet with avocado spread on toast
- Protein shake and a banana
- A vegetable omelet with avocado and roasted potatoes
- Quinoa bowl with pecans and berries
- Oatmeal, almonds, protein powder, and berries
Kerksick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Kreider, R., Kalman, D., Ziegenfuss, T., Lopez, H., Landis, J., Ivy, J. L., & Antonio, J. (2008). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5, 17. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-5-17
Elliot, T. A., Cree, M. G., Sanford, A. P., Wolfe, R. R., & Tipton, K. D. (2006). Milk ingestion stimulates net muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 38(4), 667–674. https://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000210190.64458.25
Fox, A. K., Kaufman, A. E., & Horowitz, J. F. (2004). Adding fat calories to meals after exercise does not alter glucose tolerance. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 97(1), 11–16. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01398.2003
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