One of the questions I get asked a lot is “how do I figure out what to eat before and after I train?”
This might seem to be a simple question to answer, but multiple variables play a part in addition to how important the right fuel is at the right time.
Here are the guidelines I give my athletes to devise their pre, intra, and post training fueling strategies.
If you’re able to eat before you train, shoot to consume 30 to 40 grams of easily digested carbs (think bananas, perfect bars, toast), 20 to 30 grams of easily digested protein, and no more than 10 to 20 grams of fat 90 minutes to 2 hours before your session.
Longer than 2 hours and you run the risk of the food being digested and not available for immediate use. Less than 90 minutes and you run the risk of it still being in your stomach and causing cramps or nausea.
This is also when studies show it is the most effective time to be consuming 20 g of whey protein (counted as your protein intake) rather than after you train.
Caveats and adjustments-
If you train early in the AM and can’t eat- then make sure your dinner the night before is heavily loaded with carbs so that your system has as much glycogen (the storage form of glucose) as possible on board.
Play around with what feels best. I can practically eat a whole pizza then go run- others are sensitive when they even have a small amount of food in their stomachs. The goal is just to provide your body with readily available fuel.
During your workout (intra training)
If you are training more than 90 minutes you should be refueling mid session. I highly encourage athletes to drink a sports drink with carbs in it, eat a banana or orange, or to supplement with dextrose or similar carb supplement.
I also like athletes to supplement with BCAA’s- some studies suggest supplementing with BCAA’s helps improve recovery and decreases muscle soreness. Just pay attention to the ingredients- a lot of these have crap like artificial colors and flavors in them.
After your workout (post training)
You should be consuming a minimum of 40 to 60 grams of protein, 40 to 60 grams of carbs, and a max of 20 to 30 grams of fat (the less the better) in your post workout meal (assuming you are training once a day).
Contrary to popular myth, your body will not excrete excess protein. If you eat more than your body needs it will simply convert it to fat, as it does carbs and fat.
So make sure you’re getting enough– your body needs it to repair the “damage” you did during training. Your protein intake should be at a gram per pound of body weight minimum per day. I suggest, if you digest it okay, to have another scoop of protein immediately after training then fill in the rest with lean meats in your meal.
Carbs post training can come from any source. I like my athletes to have some carbs right away (a banana or a bar on the way home) then have rice or potatoes in their meal.
Fats you want to keep low- you are trying to get protein and carbs to your muscles, and fats slow down digestion. It can be a balancing act to get in enough protein while minimizing fat, but if you don’t add three pounds of bacon and cheese to your meal, you should be okay.
What if I train two or three times a day?
Break your macros up so that you are getting at least 20 grams of carbs and 20 grams of protein before and after every session. Then spread out the rest over the course of the day.
What if I’m not hungry right after training?
Too bad- eat anyways. Get in the habit of having a small snack within 20 minutes of being done, then by the time you get home your system will be primed for more.
What if I’m at the gym longer than I expected and I don’t have anything to eat?
This is not a big deal if it happens on a rare occasion- but don’t make a habit of it. If you can at the very least get a FitAid or stash a sports drink in your gym bag. Training increases cortisol levels, cortisol breaks down muscle, and in the absence of glucose/carbs to protect muscle break down, cortisol is going to go to town. Protect your gains!
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