I don't think when it comes to health and indeed training, one can ever overdo the message about ensuring you are getting the right nutrition to properly fuel your activities. So I won't make any apologies for writing this for my column.
After all if you ignore the nutrition aspect when you train, you are pretty much just wasting your time!
We're often told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but here at JHHF, we beg to differ.
Without a doubt, the most important meals of your day are the ones you eat before and after your workout. Without the right attention to detail in these meals, your hard work at the gym will be rendered useless.
Before we begin, let's get one thing straight. Whilst your pre and post workout meals are incredibly important, that doesn't mean they have to be complicated. In fact, some of the best pre and post workout meals are so simple, it's almost insulting.
Pre and post workout nutrition isn't a science. You certainly don't have to invest all of your hard earned wages into the latest 'must have' supplements, either. All you need is a little bit of know-how to dial in your meals to get the most from your training.
Here's everything you need to know about pre and post workout nutrition.
Before your workout
Before you train, it's important to have amino acids in your bloodstream to maximise protein synthesis and prevent against muscle breakdown. In practice, this means consuming protein (and allowing enough time for it to digest) before you train.
Recently, there has been a shift toward 'fasted' training - that is, training on an empty stomach. The theory with this is that as there has been no energy consumed through food, our body turns to stored body fat as fuel. The reality is that as there are no amino acids in our bloodstream, our body turns to stored amino acids as fuel.
In other words, fasted training breaks down muscle tissue.
If you're actively looking to build muscle, you can now see that fasted training is probably not the most sensible option.
So what do you do instead?
The best advice is to eat a pre workout meal that contains 20 - 30g protein. This might be a small lean chicken breast, a fillet of salmon or a can of tuna. Do this around 90 to 120 minutes before your workout to allow enough time for it to digest. Or, if you're pressed for time, you can consume a protein shake up to an hour before training, as they digest faster.
If your schedule means you have to train first thing in the morning, you'll need to find a way to get some amino acids into your system as quickly as possible. In this situation, a powdered BCAA drink can be very useful. Real food always works best, but sometimes life gets in the way so we have to make the best of what we've got.
In an ideal world, none of us would have to train as soon as we got out of bed. Not only is it harder to get a good meal in beforehand, our resting body temperature is lower which means our central nervous system isn't as prepared for stressors - such as a heavy workout.
But for some people there is no other option, so we have to make the best of a not-so-ideal situation.
Protein is just one component of your pre-workout meal, but it's the most important place to start. Next up on your plate is a good carbohydrate source.
We need carbohydrates before we train for two reasons. Firstly, it helps to top off our glycogen stores, which provide the fuel for working muscles. Secondly, carbohydrate consumption raises insulin in the body, which is essential in the conversion of amino acids to muscle tissue.
You don't need to worry too much about the science. All you need to know is that you should be consuming a good source of carbohydrate before you train. As a general rule, this will be in a ratio of 2 - 3 grams of carbs for every gram of protein.
So if you're having 25g protein pre workout, aim for 50 - 75g carbs. That's approximately 1 and a half cups of cooked white rice, or one large sweet potato.
Again, if you're pushed for time, you'll need to consume a faster digesting carbohydrate. In this case, fruit such as bananas, dates and berries are an excellent choice. Whizz them in the blender with your protein powder 60 - 90 minutes before you train.
When it comes to fat, you'll want a relatively small amount of this in your pre workout meal. Don't skip it altogether, as this can cause blood sugar crashes. Half a small avocado or a teaspoon of coconut oil will do the job nicely.
Last but not least, your pre workout meal should contain salt. The reason for this is that sodium is essential in the facilitation of muscular contractions, which is why people often claim to get a better 'pump' when they eat a salty pre workout meal. So add a generous pinch of Himalayan salt or pure sea salt to your meal; not only will it taste better, but you'll perform better in the gym too.
Putting it all into practice, here are three examples of an ideal pre workout meal:
1 can of tuna
1 cup white jasmine rice
½ small avocado
125g lean chicken breast, cooked in 1tsp Tagaloa coconut oil
1 large sweet potato
200ml water / fruit juice
1 large banana
1 handful berries
1 scoop whey protein
1 teaspoon almond butter
After you workout
If you've had a hard training session, you'd have done two things:
Damaged muscle tissue
Depleted glycogen stores
This may sound counterproductive, but the point of training is to stress your muscles so they repair and grow back stronger. But in order to facilitate this repair, you're going to need a solid post workout meal after training.
Protein is essential in your post workout meal. This helps to kickstart muscle repair. Remember that amino acids are the building blocks of muscle tissue, so it makes sense to consume them as soon as you can after training in order to rebuild muscle.
In practice, this means consuming another 20 - 30g protein immediately after you train. You won't need to go any higher than this, as protein synthesis maximises at 30g even in the most advanced of trainees. Any more protein will just slow the rate at which it is absorbed.
Alongside this, you will need to consume some carbohydrates. Again, there are two reasons for doing this. The first one is to replenish the muscle glycogen you have just used, and the second is to raise insulin, which in turn speeds up the rate at which amino acids are absorbed.
Aim for a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein post workout. So if you're having 30g protein, you'll need 60 grams of carbs.
To maximise the insulin spike, consume high GI carbs immediately after training instead of 'slower burning' carbs. On this occasion, white rice is a better choice than brown rice, as it digests faster.
Fat should be as limited as possible in your post workout meal. Whilst dietary fat is very important at other times of day, it slows digestion, and therefore delays the rate at which amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream. You want your post workout meal to get to work as quickly as possible, which means keeping fat to a minimum.
Salt isn't essential in your post workout meal, but can help replenish electrolytes if you have had a particularly sweaty session.
Bringing everything together, here are three examples of an ideal post workout meal:
150g extra lean ground beef
2 medium baked potatoes
150g cod fillet
1.5 cups white rice
200ml fruit juice
1 scoop whey protein powder
In both pre and post workout meals, keeping it simple is the key to success! Stick to these basic golden rules, and watch how your performance improves in the gym.