One key concept that is important to understand in order for anyone to reach their fitness goals is that exercise and nutrition go hand in hand, like Batman and Robin, Bert and Ernie, or cookies and milk. They are essentially two sides of the same coin that when combined, create synergistic benefits that are much greater than the sum of their parts. One of the main questions that leave many guessing though is
How exactly do you maximize the benefits you get from food before, during, or after a workout?
The three things you’ll need to properly fuel yourself are protein, carbohydrates, and water.
Water, which is probably the most overlooked is the most important on a primal level. Without water your body cannot function, much less push it self to perform the intense physical activity of a workout. Rehydrate often and add a beverage with electrolytes, not only will you be able to push yourself more, but it keeps your central nervous system sharp as well so reactions will be quicker and sharper.
Carbohydrates primarily act as fuel and contrary to popular belief are beneficial if taken correctly. Getting the right amount of carbs will give you the sustained energy needed to perform rigorous activity. In addition to restoring glycogen, (which are what carbs become)they also aid in preventing muscle breakdown which happens while you workout, and are theorized to increase the length of time for protein synthesis that occurs when exercising. The type of workout as well as your goals are things to consider though because if the workout is shorter, or not as intense, or your goal is fat loss, carbohydrates while still recommended in some sense for ideal performance and recovery are not as necessary.
Protein, is the king ingredient when it comes to workout nutrition. When we put our bodies through physical activity, all the chemical reactions that occur because of the mechanical stress cause a breakdown of muscle. By replenishing it with protein we are rebuilding that muscle and adapting it to be even stronger than before. It’s the basic formula for developing stronger and leaner or bigger muscles. For the workout you’l want fast acting protein, such as whey protein and branched chained amino acids. Whole foods are tried and true and will always work but they take longer to digest and so don’t take advantage of the workout as much as fast acting protein powders do.
Eating Before, During, and After
Timing is the other factor to consider to maximize your benefit. Hydrating is something you will want to do in all three phases of the workout, before, during, and after. You’ll perform better physically and cognitively. If you’re workout is long or intense ingesting carbs and protein before/during the workout is good for kick starting protein synthesis into high gear. This means that you’ll get a head start in reducing the muscle breakdown that occurs from training as well as enhancing the process that rebuilds it. You’ll also have energy to give it your hardest efforts.
Post workout nutrition though is still king for many reasons. Once the body stops exerting itself, it will focus all of its resources into recovering and post workout nutrition will be more efficiently utilized rebuilding and regenerating the body. During the workout, the body goes into whats called a catabolic state where
– blood insulin goes down (needed for protein and glycogen synthesis)
– cortisol increases (a stress hormone)
– glycogen stores are depleted
– muscle breakdown
Ingesting the proper combination of carbs and protein will reverse all of that and put the body in an anabolic state, or a state of rebuilding. The effects are felt even more if taken immediately after a workout and decrease as time goes on up to two hours, then the synergistic effects of workout nutrition are gone and then you’re just getting nutrition. Research has shown that it is after the workout that protein synthesis is greatest when combined with nutrition. So take advantage and use that window to help achieve your goals!
There you have it, hopefully this gives you a better understanding of how to maximize your nutrition with a workout. Everyone is unique, if you have any experiences you’d like to share, write it in the comments below.