What should I eat before my workout? After my workout? These are questions I hear all the time and like many other questions, the answer is ‘it depends’. It depends, for the most part, on what you want to achieve.
When it comes to fitness and nutrition, there are some common concepts that apply to almost everyone, but everyone is unique and what works best for one person is not necessarily good for another.
Let’s take three examples. First, we have a yogi who wants to lose weight. Second, we have a lean hockey player who wants to get stronger and bigger, and finally we have an older adult with rheumatoid arthritis. Clearly their nutrition plans wouldn’t be the same. They all need to focus on quality foods but the portions, meal times and macro nutrient ratios will differ.
Let’s look at what to eat before a workout. The goal of the pre-workout meal is to provide fuel for your workout. If the workout is intense and requires mental focus and optimal athletic performance, as is the case with our hockey player, the idea is to eat to perform. This will mean a solid meal with emphasis on good quality carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or squash, particularly if the athlete is on the go and hasn’t had time to refuel since their last bout of physical activity.
There should also be emphasis on foods that allow for mental clarity and focus, which might mean some additional protein and good quality fats, particularly omega 3 fatty acids from sources such as fish.
If, on the other hand, the training is lower intensity and doesn’t require high performance, fuelling immediately before a workout is less important than eating to regulate hormones such as insulin and cortisol. In this instance, it may even be appropriate to train first thing in the morning in a fasted state, before breakfast.
Post workout nutrition can be even more complicated. Our hockey player will need to quickly ingest protein to rebuild tissue and carbohydrates to replenish muscle glycogen. He should aim to ingest an easily digestible source of protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes of his workout, such as whey protein shake. He will also need to plan out a solid balanced meal within a couple of hours of his workout. This will allow them to recover from a tough workout and be ready for the next training session. On the other hand, our yogi and our senior simply need to focus on sustaining themselves with a balanced, healthy meal, composed of lean protein, along with healthy fats and vegetables.
If the goal is to manage pain and stay active, the focus should be on reducing inflammation and toxins. This may require some investigation into food sensitivities that are very common with conditions such as arthritis, in particular gluten and dairy. It’s often advantageous in these cases to opt for organic vegetables, pastured meats and focus on avoiding all allergens and sugars.
Taking a bit of time to flesh out exactly what you want to get out of your fitness and nutrition program can not only help choose the right fitness program, it can also put things into perspective when things get rough, or when you are tempted to veer off track.
Tania Tetrault Vrga is owner and head trainer at CrossFit Winnipeg. Send questions to her at www.crossfitwinnipeg.com.