Does timing your food intake around your workouts REALLY matter? Yes and no. If we look at a hierarchy of nutritional elements based on importance, timing falls 4th on the list of 5. This list goes:
-Total calorie consumption
-Supplements from https://liftmode.com/calming/oleamide.html
The takeaway from this is that, yes it does matter, BUT if the first 3 things on that list are not up to par, we’ve got bigger issues to worry about.
Let’s assume things 1 through 3 are on-point already, and dive in….
Common thought: this pre-workout meal is my “fuel” for the upcoming workout. Well, not really.
Couple things that play into this are the rates of food digestion and glycogen synthesis. Food is generally taking 4-5 hours for digestion and to become usable “fuel”. Additionally, glycogen synthesis is happening on a 24-hour basis.
SO, the pre-workout meal is much more about blood sugar and nervous system control than energy and fuel. For this reason, we want to be eating 90-120 minutes before our workout. We don’t want our blood sugar too low or spiked as we go into training so this window allows for a good level before we hit the gym.
“What should I eat?” Keep it all carbohydrates and proteins with no added fats.
What?! No peanut butter or nuts before the gym?
Fats are slow digesting so they’re going to A. slow the digestion of the other nutrients they’re consumed with and B. sit in the GI, potentially making your workout really uncomfortable.
Morning Trainees – I understand getting up at 3:30am to eat your pre-workout meal is not high on your list, and that’s okay! In this scenario your meal before bedtime the night before is acting as your pre-workout meal and you can train fasted in the early AM. Be sure that the nighttime meal has 25% or more of your daily carbs in it though!
That time when the WOD is over, you’re lying on the floor making sure you’re still alive and regaining your senses. It’s time to restore that lost carbohydrate (glycogen) in your body, right?
Well, not really (again).
This time is actually more about calming the nervous system and helping it switch back to recovery mode. Your body has released a bunch of cortisol and you are essentially in that ‘fight or flight’ situation; same thing that happened when our ancestors were running from a bear in the woods.
The problem is the body doesn’t know that your workout has ended (or that you’ve escaped the bear). Cortisol is still being released and we need to shut it off so we can shift to our parasympathetic nervous system, AKA rest and recovery mode. We do that with a post-workout nutrition protocol.
There are a few different options here based on training age, training intensity and modality, so let’s summarize the options:
Beginner/low training age: not a lot of demand on the nervous system at this stage for the athlete, so a good post-workout meal low in fats within 45 minutes of training is sufficient.
Experienced athletes with a higher training age: for these athletes, we like to attenuate the nervous system with a post-workout shake containing a high molecular weight carb like cyclic dextrin and whey protein. The ratio of carb to protein depends on intensity and current body fat levels.
-Leaner athlete with high intensity/volume – approximately a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein (usually 50:25).
-Athletes who are not as lean and have more body fat to lose – lower ratio of 1:1 carbs to protein (usually 25:25). As body fat levels go down we can transition into the 2:1 example.
For the beginner athlete, they’ve already taken care of this with the meal they ate within 45 minutes of training. For the rest of the athletes who have consumed their post-workout shake, here’s the deal:
Research shows that glycogen restoration is occurring faster for up to 90 minutes post-workout. So while we’ve already done the important part of calming the nervous system and starting the recovery process, let’s further take advantage of this window (especially if you have aesthetic goals).
60-90 minutes after your post-workout shake, eat a HIGH-QUALITY meal of mostly carbs and protein. Some fats are okay in here too; I don’t recommend you drizzle olive oil on this meal, but don’t feel bad if there’s a little fat present.
Quantity is not super important here; eat to what your hunger and macro prescription for the day will allow. The big thing is Quality. We’ve created an environment to maximize nutrient absorption, so let’s get some great nutrients in your system during this window!
Still with me? Let’s recap and wrap this thing up.
Pre-workout – 90-120 minutes prior to training, carbs and protein with no fats.
Post-workout – depending on training age, either a meal within 45 minutes of training OR a carb/protein shake comprised of either 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of carb:protein.
Post-Post Workout – beginners who ate a solid meal within 45 minutes: nothing here. All others: 60-90 minutes after the shake, eat a high-quality meal of mostly carbs and protein.
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