There are often many questions that crop up when it comes to getting the most out of your training. One of which is – should you eat before or after a workout? This article looks to answer this question and provide some helpful pointers.
For you to maximize your workout, you need to maximize your muscles’ ability to perform. They need a substance called glycogen for energy, which is essentially sugar. To produce glycogen, your body needs a healthy supply of carbohydrates. This means you’ll need to eat before your workout – but you’ll need to eat the right things at the right times. For years now, and with the popularity of the Atkins, South Beach, and Paleo diets, people have had the idea that carbs are bad, and the fewer carbs they consume, the healthier they’ll be. However, if you’re working out regularly and skimping on carbs, you might be making yourself sick. Not to mention you’ll feel lethargic and make very little progress.
Of course, this isn’t to say that you should dive into a loaf of white bread or a giant bowl of pasta just before working out. These are simple carbohydrates that your body will break down very quickly, resulting in a sugar spike and subsequent crash. Rather, you should consume complex carbohydrates at least two hours before a workout. This way, your body is in the full swing of constant, stable glycogen production, which is exactly the kind of fuel your muscles need to improve your endurance, strength, and stamina during your workouts. Having said that, if ever there was a time to consume simple carbs it’s right after a workout when your glycogen levels are depleted – though usually in the form of fruit.
Although you need to consume healthy fats in your diet, it’s best to avoid them in pre-workout meals. Fat slows down your digestion, which means that the complex carbs you consumed to fuel your muscles won’t be absorbed as efficiently as they could be. For this reason, your pre-workout meal should consist of mostly fat-free sources of protein, complex carbohydrates, and nutrients from fruits and vegetables.
It’s true that you can’t build muscle tissue without protein. You can get your protein from a variety of food sources, including lean meats, dairy products, and several plants, but when it comes to your pre-workout meal, you should try to avoid even lean animal proteins that contain fats. You should also make sure you’re consuming complete proteins, as these contain the amino acids your body needs to break down and rebuild muscle cells, which is key for lean muscle growth. Some great sources of protein that you can consume prior to your workout include quinoa and bulgur, which are versatile grains that are easy to incorporate into your diet.
Although it’s vital to make sure you’re getting the right macronutrients in proper quantities before your workouts, it’s also important to make sure you’re taking care of your body after your workouts, too. Most experts will agree that it’s a good idea to consume protein an hour or two after weightlifting or resistance training. After you complete your workout, your body will want to start reparing the muscle tissue to make it stronger and larger. A whey protein shake can provide your body with the extra amino acids it needs, but you can achieve the same results with a balanced meal consisting of lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
So, should you eat before or after a workout? The short answer is both. Make sure to consume plenty of complex carbohydrates a couple of hours before your workouts to provide your muscles with the fuel you need, but avoid fats as these will slow their absorption. Following your workout, a source of complete protein along with carbohydrates will ensure that your body has the sustenance it needs to rebuild muscle tissue and restore glycogen levels.