Eating Before and After Training
This “EAT” blog might not apply to everyone reading it, but I hope all of you are getting in at least some physical activity on a regular basis. The majority of my personal training clients and bootcampers are training 3-4 days a week, so all of you had better listen up! I want to touch on two feeding times that are regularly overlooked- before and after training. As with most flaws in people’s eating plans there are plenty of reasons/excuses for this one. Some people are trying to lose weight and are counting calories, some athletes need to maintain a certain weight (or body composition), some people don’t have time, and some people just don’t like to do it! I don’t want to turn this into a big, long anecdote, but here is a little bit about my personal experience with this particular eating issue.
I fall into the last category I mentioned above. I have far from a sensitive stomach, but I have never enjoyed eating within 2 hours of a workout, and the same goes for afterwards as well. This is actually a common phenomena regarding training, but it often isn’t touched upon. This might sound odd but, without getting too technical, during extended bouts of aerobic activity, or during intense sessions of anaerobic activity, blood is diverted away from the digestive tract so it can go to the muscles that are working. Pretty much, it is normal to be disinclined to eat in the hours around your training. During my marathon training, I used to have a great deal of difficulty eating before and after my runs, mainly long runs. Eating before a run caused everything from nausea, cramps, headaches, and an upset stomach (think the Pepto-Bismol commercial). After a run, particular one 12 miles or longer, I wouldn’t even be hungry, so, for a long time, I wouldn’t eat anything within a couple hours before or after my runs. When I ran my first marathon, I still had these bad habits. The day of the marathon, I ate one slice of bread at 9am (an hour before the race). During the race, I drank a total of 80 ounces of sports drink. After the run, not only was I not hungry, even if I had been hungry I was so exhausted I wouldn’t have felt like eating(mind you, running 26.2 miles takes a while and is pretty fatiguing when you’re a less than stellar athlete like myself). The next time I ate was at 6pm that evening. Long story short, I ended up feeling horrible for the next few days and wasn’t able to run or lift for almost three weeks. I know, I know, you’re all shaking your heads and waggling your fingers at me. I knew what I should do to optimize my performance, but I was young, inexperienced, and figured I would “listen to my body” and figured that if I didn’t feel like eating, I shouldn’t. Well, in the weeks following that marathon, my body said, “F- you that sucked!” I finally wised up and started experimenting with different foods before my runs and pretty much forced myself to take in something right after my run. Last year in Boston, I was not only able to eat a full bagel and a banana before my run, but I drank 128 ounces of sports drink during the race and I also ate a banana, a few orange slices, and a twizzler during the race. To top it all off, I went and had a full plate of Pad Tai just an hour after I ran. Not the perfect race day diet, but I felt good later that day, and I lifted heavy just five days after the race.
So, enough about me, this blog is for all of you. If you haven’t picked it up from my previous blogs, I will be blunt now- food is fuel. So many people look at eating as a leisure activity. For one, that is a huge reason why so many people are overweight (I will get more in depth on this issue at a later date). And furthermore, people are neglecting their bodies by failing to ingest foods that will help fuel, refuel, build, and improve them. Eating before a workout will give you the energy you need to push yourself, the mental acuity to focus on every rep of every exercise and make the most out of it, and the ability to go harder, longer. Why would anyone intentionally go into training knowing they haven’t fueled their body for a great session? On the same note, why would you go through an intense training session where you pushed yourself the entire time, and then forgo the critical opportunity to take advantage of the nutrient sensitivity that killer workout created? So here are the what, why, and how of making the most of your pre- and post-workout nutrition.
What: Pre-workout Nutrition
Why: Improved training session- more energy, decreased stress, greater ability to focus, reduced amount of muscle tissue used as a fuel source.
How: Ingest a small meal or snack (total calories will vary depending on your size, overall caloric intake, energy needs, and personal fitness goals) within an hour of your workout. Due to the work your muscles will be doing, you will experience a certain degree of decreased blood flow to your digestive tract, as I mentioned above. For this reason, it is best to stay away from foods that are hard to digest (dairy, fiber, protein, and highly acidic foods all fall into this category) and to choose foods that are easy to digest. My personal favorite is a banana or two, because of the fruit’s fairly neutral pH as well as the potassium content. Everyone’s food tolerances are different, so you may have to experiment with your pre-workout food intake to find the best options, timing, and volume.
What: Post-workout Nutrition
Why: Improved recovery- increased aerobic and anaerobic adaptation, improved immune function, decreased excessive inflammation, greater glycogen and protein synthesis leading to improved metabolic rate. When you train, your tissues are broken down and afterwards they try to adapt (during strength training your contractile tissues are being broken down so they can, ideally, be rebuilt stronger, during aerobic activity, your tissues are broken down and, ideally, more aerobic enzymes are created to facilitate your future aerobic endeavors). Fueling your tissues post-workout allows you take full advantage of the nutrient sensitive state your body is in so your body can reach a positive protein status and store glycogen for upcoming training sessions. This means that the calories you are eating are going towards recovery, repair, and adaptation.
*Some people will start to eat/drink during their workout session, which is also beneficial, but not necessary for the average exerciser.
How: Ingest something within 45 minutes of completing your workout and again within 2 hours of completing your workout. Post-workout you will again want to take in some easily digestible carbohydrates again, but adding some protein will significantly improve glycogen synthesis (glycogen is the form of carbohydrate, used for energy, we store mainly in our muscles and liver). When I’m in a hurry, I have protein shake on hand made with 2 scoops of protein, 16oz of skim milk, and a piece of fruit; this works after most resistance, plyometric, and endurance workouts. If I had the time (and forethought) to prepare something, before a long run, one of my favorite refueling snacks is 2 slices of wholegrain bread with 1 Tbsp of peanut butter and 2 slices of turkey bacon (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). My intake is higher in fat and salt than I would recommend for after an average workout, but it helps me balance my electrolytes and is what seems to help restore my energy the fastest. Again, everyone is different, so find what is best for you. If you happen to train right before dinner, you have all the more reason to make sure the meal you prepare is well balanced.
*If weight loss is one of your primary goals is weight loss, do not eat excessive calories post-workout and try to consume a little more protein.
To state it as simply as possible, you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck out of your workout by fueling (that means eating!) properly both before and after.