It seems that everywhere you look, there’s another product or appliance making promises to get you ripped or to melt off fat. The truth is, while additional sports supplements can help you power through your workout and improve your recovery period, nutrition and exercise should be the cornerstone of your fitness journey. Man (and woman) cannot live on supplements alone.
PRE WORKOUT FUEL
Why you need to fill your tank
When it comes to fuel, your body prefers carbohydrates. Carbs can be efficiently turned into glucose, which your body uses as an immediate fuel source. Leftover glucose not immediately used for energy is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen through a process called glycogenesis. Your muscles rely on these glycogen stores during your workout.
So, if carbohydrates fuel our muscles, why do carbs get such an evil reputation among dieters the world over? Your liver and muscles can only store so much glycogen – any extra is stored as fat. This is why pre workout nutrition is such a highly researched topic. Athletes are dedicated to finding the perfect balance of nourishment that will give them a full tank to energize them before their workout, but not add on a layer of fat.
You might think that extra fat would be the worst result of an imbalanced nutrition program, but many would argue that potential muscle loss is their greatest fear. Erring on the side of a carbohydrate deficit could leave your glycogen stores depleted mid-workout, leaving your body to source energy from your protein stores – your muscle. While a greater amount of muscle mass will mean greater potential glycogen storage, it also means your body may need to tap into your glycogen stores at a faster rate.
Best foods to eat before your workout
The beautiful (and sometimes frustrating) thing about our bodies is that they are all unique. Unfortunately, that means that finding your perfect pre workout meal will involve a bit of trial and error, but there are some general rules to live by.
Slow digesting (complex) carbs and fast digesting (simple) carbs
Both forms of carbohydrates give you energy – the basic difference between the two is when that energy is delivered. Complex, carbohydrates are digested at a slower rate, which means the energy contained within, is available much later. The opposite is true for simple carbohydrates. These are digested quickly, giving your body an energy source that can be almost instantaneous, depending on the carb.
Protein before workout: While research is conflicting when it comes to the exact amount of protein you should eat prior to a workout, some research indicates that consuming .4 -.5 grams of protein for every kilogram of lean body mass will offer the greatest benefit. For a 150-pound person, this translates into about 25-35 grams of protein before and after a workout.
Eating protein as part of your pre workout meal will help curb muscle breakdown. During strenuous exercise, your muscles naturally begin to break down because they are under stress. Your body will repair this damage, however, athletes who add to their protein stores before working out are likely to lose less muscle over the course of their workouts.
Protein and carbs are the ideal combo for pre workout foods. Combine one protein and one or two carbohydrates to make your ideal pre-workout snack.
- Peanut butter/almond butter: nut butters as well as raw nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein, but also give you a healthy dose of quality fats
- Greek yogurt: This type of yogurt has a higher protein content than regular yogurt, but can be easily mixed with other flavors for a pre-workout treat.
- Whey protein smoothie: Quality protein powders like NFP Complete Protein are easily digested to power you up before your workout.
- Lean meats like chicken and turkey: These pack a lot of protein per ounce, but don’t go for a full breast right before a workout, or you’ll feel sluggish.
- Cottage Cheese: A perfect high-protein compliment to sweet or savory carbohydrates
Simple(S) & Complex(C) Carbohydrates:
- Bananas (S): Bananas are hailed as nature’s energy bar. They’re packed with potassium, which aids in muscle function.
- Apples (S): These offer a sweet, satisfying crunch and are loaded with vitamin C.
- Raisins (S): Dried fruit can be very convenient if you’re struggling for carbs on the go.
- Whole wheat toast (C): A super versatile carb option.
- Oatmeal/Granola (C + protein): Has fiber to release energy slowly and B vitamins to help your body absorb and use the carbs
Because simple carbohydrates are digested quicker, mixing a protein with both a simple and complex carbohydrate will keep you energized now and later. For example, you could enjoy a cup of Greek yogurt topped with granola and fruit.
Supplements to bolster your nutrition and support your workout
Hydrolyzed protein powders like NFP Complete protein is an obvious choice when considering pre workout supplementation. Additionally, as the name implies, pre workout supplements like NFP’s IC Red will maximize your energy to make your workout more efficient.
MID WORKOUT FUEL
Fuel during a workout
If you can contain your workout in an hour or less, you probably don’t need to have a snack mid-workout. But, during competitions, races, or those days when you just need to tear up the gym, you need to refuel your tank every 30 minutes or so. Aim for a 50-calorie serving of easily digested, healthy carb options such as raisins, a banana, or an energy bar.
Regardless of the time you spend gripping the irons or smashing cardio, keep a water bottle handy – and use it. Water is essential to almost all of your bodily functions. In fact, when you lose just 2 percent of your body weight water, your performance can drop by up to 25 percent.
To avoid dehydration, drink about 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes throughout your workout. If you think you’re still running low on fluids, weigh yourself before and after you workout. For every pound of water weight you lose, drink 16 to 20 ounces of water.
POST WORKOUT FUEL
Your body after your workout
Following a tough workout, your glycogen stores are likely depleted and your muscles have been broken down. At this point, your body switches to recovery mode. Athletes love recovery because this is when your body rebuilds and repairs your muscles – which means muscle growth.
Without adequate post workout nutrition, muscle growth will be at a standstill, or worse, your body will pull from your existing muscle to fuel recovery. Again, when it comes to post-workout nutrition, there is no magic formula or perfect carb to protein ratio. Research findings are often mixed when it comes to just how much of each you need. But, when it comes to your perfect post workout meal, trial and error can be your best friend – pay attention to your body and over time, you’ll discover exactly what you needs to function at optimum levels.
Best foods to eat after your workout
There shouldn’t be more than 3-4 hours between your pre workout meal and your post workout meal. To get the biggest benefit from the protein and carbs you eat following your workout, munch on a snack or plan to eat a full meal within 30 minutes after completing your workout – include your cool down and stretching within that time period. Some call this your anabolic window. After the half-hour mark, the benefits of your post workout meal start to decrease dramatically.
Protein: Studies indicated that both pre workout protein and post workout protein intake reduces catabolism (muscle loss). The science behind eating protein following your workout is simple: to build and repair muscle, your body needs protein. Research also indicates that protein helps to develop enzymes that improves your body’s ability to adapt to high-endurance sports. While it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact measure of protein, between 25 and 35 grams both before and after working out.
Carbs: Carbs help stock the glycogen stores your body likely tapped during your workout. Additionally, carbohydrates are linked to protein synthesis (the process of creating muscle). When you ingest carbohydrates, it stimulates the production of the hormone insulin. Increased insulin is one of the key components of protein synthesis. However, it is important to note that some research indicates that the boost in insulin from ingesting protein alone may be all your body needs to start creating muscle. Here, again, is reasoning to support the notion that you must listen to your body and find what works for you as an individual.
Many of the same proteins and carbs can be mixed and matched to be eaten before and after your workouts. However, some protein choices may make you feel sluggish during a workout, while others are perfect as full lunch or dinner selections. Find the combinations that satisfy your taste buds and fuel your muscles.
- Chicken and turkey: Versatile lean protein choices
- Salmon and tuna: Packed with protein and Omega 3 fatty acids
- Whey protein: Easily digested to fuel your muscles fast and stop catabolism (muscle breakdown).
- Eggs: One of nature’s perfect proteins! Plus, they’re a great choice when you’re budget-conscious.
- Milk: Don’t have a lot of time? Down a glass of milk and you’ve fueled your tank with a bit of protein.
- Hummus: An awesome way to add flavor to veggies, other proteins, or carbs.
Simple(S) & Complex(C) Carbohydrates:
- Sweet potatoes: A filling carb that is a nutrient powerhouse.
- Chocolate milk (S + Protein): Chocolate milk… healthy? Yup! It has an ideal protein/carbohydrate combo.
- Cereal: If you’re in a time crunch, cereal with milk or yogurt is a great snack option. Just make sure to skip the sugary stuff and opt for whole grain, low-sugar options.
- Squashes like butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash: So many nutrients, so much flavor!
- Pita bread: An awesome accompaniment to the protein-packed hummus found above.
- Rice: Easy to cook and even easier to mix with veggies and lean protein for dinner.
- Whole grain pasta: Don’t go overboard. It’s easy to carb overload on pasta. Fill your plate with lean meats and veggies to round out the meal.
Supplements that work with your recovery meal
Your protein supplement is working double duty here, offering muscle-building protein both before and after your workout. Other sports supplements that are particularly effective during your post workout window are recovery supplements like NFP’s Revolution 360 and creatine supplements like NFP Activate Creatine. Branch chain amino acids like NFP’s Unbreakable BCAAs provide your system with amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that can be directly absorbed into your system.