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Nutrition in relation to exercise: what should you eat before, during and after training.

When I get up first thing in the morning, my gym clothes are already laid out. I find that by having them ready, I have one less battle with myself on why I need those extra 9 minutes in bed by hitting the snooze button. We all do it. That constant battle where our mind tries to convince us we need more sleep. We convince our selves that those 9 minutes mean so much even though we’ve already had 480 minutes if we’ve had 8 hours sleep. Very logical reasoning that doesn’t enter our brains when we first wake up. 

See, one coffee in the morning and I'm wide awake!

See, one coffee in the morning and I'm wide awake!

Most mornings, I win that battle to get up and get my workout in. I usually have a quick cup of coffee and a few glasses of water before heading straight to the gym. After my workout I'll head back to the house and usually have a protein shake after while cooking up some breakfast. I'm not a big eater in the mornings. Depending on how I feel, I might get a quick protein shake into me before training. It’s not ideal to train on an empty stomach but it works for me. It’s my routine and I’m use to it. For some people, that’s just not going to happen. They would rather get their day’s work in and then workout some time in the evening. And that’s great. I find that, personally, I can’t get a good workout in at night time. I’m too tired. It’s too busy in the gym etc. I’m just not a fan of it. 

My point is, it all comes down to routine. And that’s usually my answer for those people that ask what to eat before, during and after exercise. I think it’s down to experimenting what’s right for each individual. I think everyone is unique and that one size never fits all when it comes to nutrition. Otherwise, we’d all be on the same plan. But if you are confused by what to eat, the following blog deals with the science behind what eating certain types of food can do before, during and after exercise.

A general rule of thumb has always been that carbs is like your fuel, the energy to help keep you going. But that rule doesn't apply for everyone! As most people know, I am an advocate of low carbs diet as they work for me. But that doesn’t mean that it will be as effective for you.

Protein is for repair of the muscle fibres. In theory, you are damaging the muscles when you work out and your body adapts. Protein can help rebuild and repair the muscle fibres.

Before Exercise:

It’s probably not best to eat directly before a workout. Putting your body through a workout while you are digesting food can be a recipe for disaster. I would recommend eating a small meal one to two hours before training. A balance of proteins and carbs. A small bit of fruit and nuts seems to be a healthy balance of the two. The key to all of this is to document what you eat and how you feel. Experiment with your food intake for a few days, see how you feel. Energy levels low? Increase carbs or protein and see how you feel after the next couple of days. Avoid foods high on the GI Chart. Food that digested quickly can give you a short term spike but can cause your energy levels to flat line during a workout. I wouldn’t be a fan of the likes of red bull or monster drinks before training for this reason. And can already see people screaming “wrong” at the screen over that sentence. And they would have a point as one study found that red bull had a positive effect on muscle endurance. However, I think that would have more to do with the initial spike in sugar levels and that your energy levels will flat line as the workout continues. Other studies have reported sugar free red bull to have zero effect on high intensity sprints as well as upper body muscle strength and endurance in trained men. 

Gi Chart low high foods index

During Exercise:

Stay Hydrated. Get water on board during breaks, even if you’re not that thirsty. I wouldn’t over complicate this with different energy drinks or protein shakes unless you are training at an elite level and your training is under 90 minutes. Especially if you have had a decent pre exercise meal. 

Post Exercise:

Protein. Protein. Protein. Especially if you train in the evening. Get a protein meal in. Any form of meat and veg is ideal. I don’t find carbs as necessary here. If carbs are the fuel of the body, you don’t need them as much when the exercise is in. Your body naturally produces glucose and I would favour a protein meal to help with recovery so you are ready for the next session. If your goal is losing weight, I wouldn’t be eating carbs either post exercise. An exception here would be if you’re looking to add muscle. Carbs can be useful to increase glycogen levels at this stage of endurance training or if your are training multiple times a day. And don’t be worrying about that “30 minute window”, trying to down a protein shake on the way home from training. Unless you’re travelling quite a bit before your next meal. In that case, get a protein shake into you. You should have time to get home and cook a proper meal for yourself. 

These are all rough guidelines and there is a lot of contradicting information out there on what to eat and when. Hell, I even contradict this blog with my morning routine. But it works for me. Use these guidelines if you are struggling with nutrition and training and see how they work for you. Take a note of his you feel before, during and after training. Plus keep in mind other aspects of your day that can affect your training as well such as work. One bad day at work may affect your energy levels and your work rate at the gym, regardless of how good your nutrition was. I would experiment with one set plan of when you eat for at least a week before making a verdict on it being right for you. Change requires consistency.