Workout nutrition made simple
By Fahad Maniar
Fuel your workouts, aid your recovery and get your goals faster with our guide to workout nutrition made simple!
The food you eat serves many purposes but the most important reason we eat is for energy to do day to day activities and to survive. Calories are converted to energy for all of our vital functions and for us to do what we need to do.
When you workout, and I am not talking about a casual 10 minutes on an exercise going on at a snails pace whilst reading the latest Harry Potter book – I am talking about working out to get the most out of your training and really stimulate your body to burn fat and build muscle, you’re going to need energy and lots of it.
Food not only fuels your workouts but it also will help you with your recovery and ultimately help you gain the physique you want. The wrong type of nutrition could actually hinder your progress.
Workout nutrition is broken down into three different phases:
- Pre Workout Nutrition – The food/meal you eat before you workout
- Peri/Intra Workout Nutrition – Nutrition taken during a workout
- Post Workout Nutrition – Food eaten after a workout
Now, before we go into each of the three areas above in a bit more detail. I want to just make a quick distinction between two parts of the population who may be reading this. The first part are athletes and people serious about their training. If this is you, I am going to assume that you train incredibly hard during your workouts and take things seriously. If so, you’ll want to pay more attention to workout nutrition.
If on the other hand, you’re more casual with your training, then following a good diet is going to be far more important to your overall goals than what you eat before, during and after a workout.
And whilst we’re on the subject of goals, just what exactly is yours? Is it to pack on some serious muscle? Is it endurance and fitness or performance or are you looking to lean out? All of these could mean different things for your workout nutrition. Fore example, if you’re trying to lean out, say for a fitness or physique show, and you want to get to single digits of body fat, you’re going to perhaps want to forego ingesting too many carbohydrates.
But, as the topic of this post states, It’s workout nutrition made simple and for that reason, I am going to make a bold assumption that you’re not stepping on stage any time soon or going for any records other than beating your own personal best.
Whatever your goal is though, there are things that we all want to achieve with the workout. We’re going to want the energy to plow through the workout itself and we want to minimise muscle loss, increase muscle synthesis and burn fat – That much you probably will agree on is what you want.
Pre workout Nutrition
When it comes to fueling your workout, your main goals are to provide your body with energy and nutrients. Working out increases your bodies need for Amino acids. For that reason, protein is one thing that we would consider as a must have before a workout (Although we recommend protein at every meal anyway) – The other thing that you probably want is carbohydrates (unless you’re on a ketogenic or very low carbohydrate diet in which case, you would look into MCTs pre workout such as coconut oil)
If you’re someone that feels stodgy or gets cramps if you eat an hour or sooner before exercise then you can just eat a good meal of proteins and carbohydrates 2-3 hours before training. You’ll want both carbohydrates and protein in this meal, preferably slow digesting carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice or a sweet potato. How many carbohydrates do you need? Well, I have heard many differing opinions on this subject. Some people give a specific amount, citing you need 1g of carbohydrates for 1kg of lean muscle but that takes too much effort in my opinion and also, as we stated before, you’re probably not looking to train like an IFBB pro. My opinion is to eat sensibly as you would, sticking within your macro needs or if you’re doing a portion control diet, sticking to a portion of carbohydrates however that looks like for you.
Protein needs are slightly more simple as I would just recommend sticking within your needs which roughly are 1.5-2g of protein per 1kg of body weight divided by however many meals you’re going to eat that day. so someone needing 100g of protein that eats 4 meals per day will take 25g of protein before a workout for argument’s sake.
You can take a pre workout or have a black coffee before a workout too for an added shot of stimulation. Black coffee and many pre workouts will also have the added benefit of helping fat oxidization during your workout but would need to be mostly had on an empty stomach for the maximum effect.
What would I eat?
Before a workout, I like to have a good dose of carbohydrates and proteins. Unless I am training early in the morning in which case, I’ll have a stimulant based pre workout and focus more on intra workout nutrition.
I’d usually have something like this:
Protein shake with Almond Milk
Blended with Oats and frozen strawberries
and a teaspoon of Natural Peanut Butter
Grilled Chicken Breast
Peri Workout/Intra workout nutrition
If you’re reading this and are not an athlete, competing soon or have a serious goal and are intent on doing some serious training, then all you need to know on this front is to stay well hydrated during a workout. Sports drinks and intra workout supplementation may not be necessary.
If on the other hand you do want to work out to get maximum results, have a goal and are going to workout like you mean it, then peri workout nutrition could be more important than post workout nutrition!
Remember the goals of workout nutrition are to fuel your workouts and aid recovery, so with that in mind, let’s talk about intra/peri workout nutrition.
This is what you consume during your workout and it doesn’t have to be complicated (Even though there are those that like to overcomplicate things)
One of the key things about peri workout nutrition is hydration. You’re going to sweat during a workout and you’re likely to get dehydrated if you’re training at intense levels or for time (an hour plus). The environment will also play a role here. Training in hot weather will likely deplete you too so drinking water is important.
Your also going to want to have easy digesting nutrients during training. So fats are definitely out as they slow down digestion and digestion can divert blood flow from the muscles. As for carbohydrates, Endurance athletes and those looking to maximise muscle gains will be most likely to go for the carbs. There are many good sources of peri workout carbohydrates including Vitargo, dextrose or even waxy maize starch although when I was at a physique theory workshop with top physique coach Mark Coles, he preferred Cyclic Dextrin.
It’s important to note that during a workout, your muscles demands for amino acids can increase, therefore it’s a good idea to supplement with Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) along with your carbohdyrates (or alone if you’re not looking to have carbohydrates – though the insulin spike caused by the carbohydrates can help shuttle the amino acids to the muscle)
What would I have during a workout?
Depending on the training session but I definitely make sure I have water!
At the moment, I am trying to gain muscle mass so I will opt for a BCAA supplement and add some dextrose into it.
How many carbohydrates you need will depend very much on the type of training, your size and duration of training too however, a good rule of thumb is.
Time of training : Carbs in grams
< 45 Minutes : 0g
45-60 Minutes : 15g
60-90 : 30g – 50g
90+ : 50g-75g
Remember, you want to have carbohydrates that fast absorbing as you don’t want to tax your digestive system otherwise you’ll end up feeling sick and sluggish.
Post Workout Nutrition
If you’ve been in the gym or around the fitness space for a while now, you’ll have been told that as soon as you finish your last rep, you have 45 minutes to consume protein and carbohydrates. It was called the “Window of opportunity” where your body would need nutrients to grow and repair.
Bro science gets scruitinized by real science and it has now been revealed that in reality, no such window actually exists. What really happens at this point is that your body does hormonally change depending on the exercise (High intensity interval training or strength training for example) and your body is primed to grow and will require refuelling so protein and carbohydrates post workout isn’t such a bad idea but you don’t need to down a 2:1 carb/protein recovery drink the moment you drop your dumb bell on your last set – I believe the supplement companies got that into people’s heads!
So what’s the best course of action post workout? Well it used to be seen as the most important meal an athlete or someone training could eat but it has recently been revealed that it is probably less important than pre workout and peri workout nutrition (although still important).
Therefore, it’s a good idea to eat quality proteins and carbs (and even a bit of fat) post workout within 1-2 hours of working out by just eating a normal meal.
What would I eat?
Honestly, I just eat a normal meal post workout, usually around 30 minutes to an hour after if I train in the evening so I will just eat with my family when I get home. Typically that includes lean protein, carbohydrates, greens and maybe some extra fats.