What to eat and when to eat it
The way you eat should ultimately be tailored towards your own individual goals. The demands of different workout styles, sports and activities will determine not only a number of calories to meet the demands of those workouts but also how that fits in with the bigger picture of your physique goals, be that to maintain weight whilst optimising performance, increase muscle tissue or lose any unwanted body fat.
To meet these goals, the overriding factor from a nutritional perspective is to meet our nutrient requirements over the course of each day, consuming the right amount of protein, carbs, fats and micronutrients to keep us healthy along the way. If we consider this to be in an order of importance, to reach our goals, we need to first consider the amount of energy we consume; secondly, where we get this energy from (carbs, fat, protein), and then do we move on to things like nutrient timing to fuel our workouts.
But what should we do around our training if maintaining performance is our goal? Are there any nutritional strategies we can employ that might give us an edge, even when on an energy deficit to ensure we get the most out of our training? Well firstly, we are going to work on the assumption that as we are going to be using high intensity, high demand activity that carbs are going to be an important fuel source in our quest for the perfectly fuelled workout.
Pre-Workout (60-90 minutes before your workout)
Carbs come into play here, although previous meals may have filled muscle glycogen stores having them ready to ‘go’, there is something to be said for consuming carbohydrates before your workout, as this will start to peak blood glucose levels around about the time you start to workout. This elevation in blood glucose can help not only replenish your about-to-be-depleted glycogen stores, but act as a boost to cognitive function and, in turn, performance, as carbohydrate is the preferred fuel for the brain and high-intensity activity in the muscle. See our range of carb supplements here.
If you are performing a strength based workout then this is also a good time to consume some protein; this can be in a whole food form but some might prefer an easily digestible source such as 20-30g of whey so that it is not heavy on the stomach. Again, this allows enough time for the protein to be digested and absorbed and will peak blood amino acid levels sufficiently for your workout to provide the building blocks for recovery and muscle growth from the second you start breaking muscle down.
A number of carbs needed in this meal will vary from person to person, but 30-50g should be enough for most people to suitably increasing their blood glucose levels to help support performance, and this can easily be consumed even when on a calorie-controlled diet to help support your workouts.
Carb and protein sources and amounts will really depend on personal preferences, the amount you require in the overall diet, and how you feel before training. Some people prefer a big carb meal before training; however, most prefer a lighter meal that doesn’t leave them feeling bloated and sluggish. Things like cottage cheese on bagels are easy to digest, packed with carbs and protein and won’t sit on your stomach too much, and things like protein shakes can really come into their own here. See our range of healthy foods here.
Assuming you are having a decent pre-workout meal, and consuming enough carbs through the rest of the day (or previous day for early morning workouts), then for shorter workouts of less than an hour, intra-workout feeding of carbs and protein/amino acids aren’t often required. However, for those doing longer workouts, using carb powders such as Vitargo or Cyclic Dextrin can help maintain performance.
Intra-workout carb-feedings can also be useful for those who carry a lot of muscle, or looking to pack on size, as a way to constantly refuel rapidly depleting muscles and as a way to bump up calorie intake at a time when our bodies are going to use that fuel for good (building muscle, restocking glycogen), not evil (converting to body fat stores).
This is because of exercise and in particular resistance training, actually primes our muscle cells to take up glucose without the action of insulin, which is both a glucose and amino acid transporter, but also a fat storage hormone – So, in theory, we can make leaner gains. However, be aware calorie balance still matters, so consuming a ton of carbs in this window, pushing you over your daily calorie allowances will still lead to unwanted body fat.
Post-Workout (up to 120 minutes after workout)
As we know, high-intensity exercise depletes glycogen stores fairly rapidly and activates transporters to take in glucose from carbohydrates into the muscle. This means that our post-workout priority is to refuel glycogen stores, as glycogen synthesis occurs at rates many, many times faster in the few hours after training than any other time.
Many people looking to gain muscle focus on this immediate post-workout window to consume protein alongside carbs, as this is proposed to support rapid amino acid uptake due to increased insulin which is, as we recall, important for both glucose and amino acid uptake into our muscle cells. This appears to be true, but only when small amounts of protein are consumed, and, in fact, the insulin response from 30-40g of whey protein alone is a sufficient amount to ensure amino acids get taken up rapidly (although it is questionable if this is actually needed) without the need for extra carbohydrate. Therefore, we do not need to consume carbs post workout to make use of protein, but it is still a good idea for many people to consume carbs at this time to restock muscle glycogen stores and support recovery.
When it comes to post-workout protein consumption, many people focus on the anabolic window (a period of less than an hour post training). It turns out that despite the fact that protein synthesis and protein demand is indeed increased after a workout, that this window, as Dr Brad Shoenfeld puts it, is actually more of a ‘barn door’, as our capacity to grow muscle and need to provide protein is elevated for many, many hours after a workout. This means that total protein intake over the course of the following hours is actually more important than the speed at which we consume protein after a workout! Therefore, in the immediate post workout window, consuming carbohydrate is arguably more important than protein and this again should be from fairly easy to digest sources. See our range of healthy foods and snacks here.
Eating will support both performance and recovery
In summary, the foods we eat around our training can help support both performance and recovery. However, this has to be placed in the context of our overall daily energy and macronutrient consumptions. The post-workout window should actually focus on carbohydrate consumption for most people, regardless of workout style, and a quality source of protein may be a priority for some people if they don’t consume protein prior to training to sustain amino acid levels and give our bodies the raw material for supporting recovery and muscle growth.
As always Team CSN are here to help, call or email us today and we can give you professional, unbiased advice on all your nutrition and supplement needs.