I am always thrilled to hear from listeners who are consistent with workouts!
That’s not easy to do, so I in my humble opinion, I think it's amazing.
A couple of disclaimers…
I’ll start by saying I am not sponsored by any food or supplement manufacturer. My goal as always is to tell you the truth to the best of my knowledge. More often than not, my information comes from published research studies. By doing this, I’m hoping that what I report to you comes from a minimally biased perspective.
This is because when we rely on other people’s experiences with meal plans, or workout routines, or supplements, there’s a really high probability that what they’re doing may not work for you at all. This is why we need well-designed studies… so we can try and figure out if certain meal plans, for example, work for most.
Or, if we don’t have time for that, the least we can do is to look to respected organizations who look at all the research for us and see what they say.
My other disclaimer is that, when it comes to recommending specific meals, the intensity and duration of your exercise matters, too. So, my recommendations may not be perfect for you, but try it out and see!
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it.
What should I eat before working out?
As far as the pre-workout meal goes, two of the best things you can do are:
- drink 1 cup of black coffee or plain tea about 1 hour before, provided you’re not sensitive to their effects, and
But, let’s get a bit more specific. When it comes to pre-workout fueling, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that we should consume 1 to 4 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight anywhere from 1 or up to 4 hours before exercising.
Ok, so we have to do a little bit of math to figure this out, but stick with me, it’s not too bad. Let’s say a person weighs 160 lbs. We first need to convert their body weight from lbs. to their weight in kg. To do this, divide their body weight by 2.2. So, using my example, just divide 160 lbs. by 2.2. Plugging this into my imaginary calculator… we find that 150 lbs. is equivalent to 72.72 kg. Now, no matter what you weigh, you would use this same formula. Take your body weight in lbs. and divide it by 2.2.
Now that we know your hypothetical body weight in kg, the math is simple! Because the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says we need 1 gram of carbohydrate per kg of body weight, we don’t need to do anymore math… we have our answer!
Using our example, we said 160 lbs. is equivalent to 72.72 kg, and because the minimum recommendation is to get 1 g of carbohydrate per kg body weight – we would multiply 72.72 times 1… which is 72.72! So, that means if you weigh 160 lbs., you should consume about 72 g of carbohydrate before a workout, at a minimum.
It’s also recommended that we avoid foods that are really high in fiber or high in fat. Both fiber and fat will slow the digestion of these foods, which may affect your workout. So, 3-4 hours before your workout, you could eat a whole English muffin, topped with a tablespoon of fruit spread, and a medium-sized apple on the side.
There’s really no protein recommendation before exercise. Most health organizations say to really focus on getting enough carbs before a meal. Protein comes later.
Now, if you’re a marathoner or triathlete, then you could consume up to 4 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight. This would be equivalent to 273 grams of carbohydrate 1 to 4 hours before a meal. For many people, 273 grams of carbs is practically a whole day’s worth! That’s why I said this “4 grams of carbohydrate” recommendation is really best for ultra-endurance athletes, not the average gym-goer.
What should I have as a post-workout meal?
So what should we eat after we’ve expended all that energy and done all of that hard work? Well, we’re in luck because the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has an opinion on that, too! They say that we should consume some more carbohydrates after the workout because, after exercise, there is more blood flow to muscle cells and the muscle cells are more sensitive to insulin, which all means that we can replenish our muscles' energy stores really fast.
A different organization, the American College of Sports Medicine, says we should eat these carbs within 30 minutes of finishing our workout. And since the workout is over, we don’t need to worry too much about fiber content. When it comes to quantity, the recommendation is to consume the same as before: about 1 gram of carbohydrate per kg of body weight. So, if someone weighs 160 lbs., that means another 72 grams or so of carbohydrate within 30 minutes after the workout.
Here is also a good time to add in some protein. Both the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine agree — hey, when does THAT ever happen? Two organizations agree about nutrition recommendations? It’s our lucky day!
Anyhoo, both agree that we should aim to consume about 20 grams of protein within 30 minutes after the workout is ideal. The belief is that doing so may stimulate muscle growth and prevent muscle breakdown. Digging a little deeper into the research, we find that consuming leucine-rich proteins, specifically, may be even more helpful. Leucine-rich proteins are found in animal-based proteins, like meat, chicken, eggs, and dairy.
So, how much is 20 g of protein? For example, 3 oz. of chicken would contain about 27 grams of protein… and 3 oz. isn’t much. It’s about the size of a deck of cards. So, after a workout, 3 oz. of chicken with a large sweet potato and broccoli on the side should do the trick.
These recommendations should keep you functioning at your best before, during, and after your workouts!