You’ve decided to start exercising. Big kudos to you. Whether it’s a run after work, a gym session in the morning or a team sport – it doesn’t matter as long as you’re moving more and feeling the burn.
While your newfound love of fitness deserves a pat on the back, it’s essential you ensure your diet is also up to scratch. It’s easy to be fooled into thinking you can eat whatever you want now that you’re working out, but that simply isn’t the case.
It’s time to consider whether what you’re putting in your body pre and post-workout is helping you reach your fitness goals. We’ve spoken to the experts at Cardiff Sports Nutrition to find out what fuel you should be giving your body before your workout and what you should be eating afterwards to aid recovery.
Here's what you should eat before a workout
If you want to get lean and strong then slow to moderate digesting carbohydrates like rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta and sweet potato are what you should be eating. These low GI foods will give you a sustained energy release throughout your workout, leaving you with more fuel to burn.
And what should you eat after
If you want to train muscles and encourage protein synthesis - the process where new skeletal muscle proteins are synthesised increasing muscle growth – then you need to consume protein after you exercise.
Protein aids muscle recovery and replenishes used stores, so that you can train better and harder. Protein also helps you to feel fuller for longer as it’s a dense nutrient. Cottage cheese, salmon, Greek yoghurt, eggs and steak are some of the best protein fixes you can get.
Consider your workout and your goals
Someone who’s going for a casual run will have different goals to someone who’s training for a marathon. Likewise, someone who is training for performance rather than aesthetic reasons will invariably need to eat different things.
If you are completing a high-intensity workout or using weights then you should be consuming protein or at least some form of meal after you exercise, as well as eating beforehand too.
Carbs are okay
Most people hear the words ‘carbs’ and do a little shiver. Carbs aren’t the food enemy when you eat them at the right time and are, in fact, essential in helping you train for longer and harder. You want to avoid carbs which are digested quickly such as white bread and sugars as you’ll only get an energy hit for the first ten minutes before you crash midway through your workout.
Eating carbohydrates can have a positive impact on your body after you exercise. Following on from a workout session the muscles cells in your body produce an increased amount of lactic acid. Carbs are then soaked into the muscles cells rather than being stored as fat if you consume them post exercise.
Eat at the right time
It’s not just about what you eat, as the time you eat can also have an impact on your workout. You should allow your body time to digest the foods you have eaten – around one to two hours is the recommended time you should wait before you don your trainers!
After your workout, you should be aiming to have a substantial meal around one to two hours afterwards. If you can’t eat right away, then a protein shake will start the recovery process. However, providing you have eaten well enough throughout the day then you should be getting the nutrients you require.
Be careful with fasted exercise
Fasted exercise can be beneficial for your body if you want to use fat stores. As your body has no food source when you fast before working out, your existing fat stores are used as energy to give you your fuel.
You do need to be careful though, as working out with no food can leave your body weary and possibly lead to you feeling faint. Eating something wholesome before bed such as porridge, can ensure your body has something in it if you are planning on exercising first thing in the morning.
Recipes for success
Finally, now you know the kinds of food groups you need to be eating from and the best times to eat, here’s a few recipes ideas to give you some inspiration!
Eat one of these before you exercise:
- Banana and Greek yoghurt – a good mix of carbohydrates and protein. Bananas raise potassium levels which maintains muscle functions
- Oats topped with fresh fruits – a source of fibre and slow release carbohydrates which keeps your energy levels consistent
- Sweet potatoes with some steamed veggies – a low GI food which will release slowly as you workout
Eat one of these after you exercise:
- Vegetable omelette with avocado – eggs are a good source of protein, and the avocado will help your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients in the veggies
- Salmon and sweet potato – salmon is high in protein and helps reduce inflammation. The carbs in sweet potato will restore glycogen levels which become low after a workout
- Protein shake – one of the easiest ‘grab and go’ options. Combine spinach, kale, banana, almond milk and a dose of protein powder for a quick fix