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What should you really be eating pre + post workout?

I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying “Abs are made in the gym, and revealed in the kitchen”. And it’s true. Unless you’re a genetic freak of nature, you cannot out-train a crap diet.

But, just like training, nutrition is a very individual process, and just like training, it’s important to “eat for an objective”.  Eating for weight loss is different from eating to gain lean muscle, and is different again when it comes to sports performance and recovery. There is no one-size fits all approach, and this includes what to eat or not eat before and after your workouts.

If your aim is body composition or fat loss, as opposed to “performance”, it’s ok to be a little bit hungry, provided that you have the physical and mental energy to complete your training at the intensity required. The best advice I can give you is to learn to listen to your own body. Try exercising in a fasted state, then try eating a “small” meal 45-60 minutes before training and see how you feel. Typically the less intensive the workout (ie not “performance” oriented), the less need there is for fueling before or refueling after.

Pre Workout Tips:

  • For a quick natural energy boost try a shot of espresso, or some L-Carnitine to enhance your fat burning ability.
  • Stick to foods that you find easy to digest and are not likely to cause any gut problems.
  • When body composition is the goal, carbohydrates are not needed for energy, and I don’t recommend sugary sports drinks.
  • Make sure you’re well hydrated. Coconut water with a good quality greens powder is a great alternative to plain water, and has tons of vitamins and minerals to fuel you.
  • My favorite pre-workout snacks are apple slices dipped in almond butter, chicken breast with a handful of macadamia nuts or my homemade energy gel comprising nut butter, pink Himalayan sea salt and lemon juice popped in the inside of a date.

Your post workout nutrition determines how quickly you recover from a training session.  For gaining or maintaining lean muscle, this is regarded as the most important meal of the day, and has an ideal 30 minute window.  It allows you to replenish the energy used during your workout, provides protein to repair and rebuild muscle, gives you all the essential vitamins and minerals required for growth, and reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) and inflammation.

Post Workout Tips:

  • Protein is essential for tissue repair, recovery and growth. Amounts will vary depending on gender, weight and workout intensity.  If fat loss is your aim, a small meal with protein 60-90 minutes post workout will suffice, but for lean muscle gain, a protein shake immediately post workout is the best option for quick absorption.
  • To recover after a high intensity session, add a small amount of high glycemic carbohydrates to replenish muscle glycogen. The body is most insulin sensitive post workout which means that it is more able to utilize carbohydrates for fuel as opposed to storing them as fat. Try adding gluten free rolled oats to your shake, or mixing it with pineapple or grape juice.
  • If you’re on a low carb nutrition plan, include 10-20g of the amino acid L-glutamine in water or in your post workout shake, as this will replenish muscle glycogen without having to ingest any additional carbs.
  • I also recommend adding in Vitamin C powder to boost your immune system, combat exercise induced oxidative stress and reduce cortisol.
Alexa Towersey - Nutrition + Fitness Expert

Alexa has over 15 years experience in the health & fitness industry. She started her career as a body double for top American fitness model Victoria Pratt, was part of the judging panel for the internationally acclaimed Body for Life competition and has worked with some of NZ’s world champion rugby team, the All Blacks. She has qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs, and been named as one of the 5 “Toughest Trainers in Hong Kong”.

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