How to Approach Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
I’m over in Europe being all bourgeois and stuff at the moment.
Thankfully I had a few people reach out asking if they could write some content for me while was away chasing foxes in England with the Queen.
Today I’ve got a good one from Toronto based nutritionist, Marc Capistrano, discussing a few intricacies of pre and post-workout nutrition.
How to Approach Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
The goal of this post isn’t to give you the ideal plate of food that should be eaten before or after training, but rather to provide you with some insight into that immediate post workout window before your next meal.
The same goes for the odd time that occurs 30 minutes to an hour before training.
I know many of you may be rolling your eyes saying that things like “the post workout window is a myth” and that in the greater scheme of things, what you eat immediately before or after training isn’t as important when your intake of food is balanced throughout the day.
I’ll agree that this is somewhat true, but I’ll also say that the timing of your food intake in and around training can have an effect on overall performance.
Before we get into the sexy takeaways like the specific foods to eat before and after our workouts, let’s get a couple things straight. First, we need to consider a few factors to help inform our unique, individual pre and post workout meal needs:
Current Eating Habits
At the end of the day, nutrition will always come down to the individual.
What works for you may not work for someone else.
As an example, I know some people who thrive training fasted and then there’s some people who need a little bit of glucose in their system to perform. Some people are fat adapted and some people, like myself, need their carbs before training.
With that being said, don’t build around a set of nutrition rules, instead, build off of what has worked for you and upgrade that shit.
If vitamins and minerals are cofactors for the body to support ATP production, then we need to consider how nutrient dense our food actually is. Nutrients are more influential on energy production more than calories.
Calories aren’t the only influence on energy production.
Blood Sugar Management
If you’re counting macros, then you’ll have your food and caloric intake set for the day, but the specifics of pre and post workout nutrition takes into consideration meal timing and what types of foods you choose to eat around your workout.
Some may argue that meal timing isn’t that important. But to me, meal timing means blood sugar management. When it comes to the fine details, the time in which you eat and digest your food can play a role in overall performance.
Rate of Digestion
The rate at which we assimilate and digest our food matters. This influences how efficiently our food is used as substrates for energy production. Also, have you ever eaten at a buffet then trained immediately after?
Keep the garbage can close if you do decide to try it.
The Intensity of Your Workout
If you’re a power-based athlete then consider fueling your body with expensive fuel; aka carbs.
As for the keto people reading this, I think we can all agree that being fat-fueled is an efficient method of energy production, but utilizing fat vs. carbs prior to training is the difference between using a Hybrid and a Ferrari to win on a race track.
The same can be said for the lower carb Paleo followers as well.
Are your goals recovery-oriented?
Or are you more concerned with body composition?
Recovery methods will usually require higher carb intake before and after your workouts, while lower carb intake will allow the body to use fat as a substrate to fuel your workouts if improving body composition is your goal.
To keep it simple, pre-workout nutrition is based around providing the body with the right amount of amino acids while also maintaining a slow and steady release of glucose to be used during your workout.
Here’s what to eat…
Have Some Fat
If you’re fat adapted this is especially important, as it’s the primary substrate of energy production for you.
Even if you’re not following a strict keto diet, I like having clients include some sort of quality fat source prior to training because of its ability to provide a slow and steady release of available glucose during your workout.
I especially like Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s) because of their ability to cross the mitochondrial membrane and be used as energy immediately. Other fats require a series of events that need L-carnitine for entry into the mitochondrial membrane while MCT’s don’t.
Some quality fat options include: coconut, avocado, cheese (if dairy is your thing) and most nuts and seeds are great options. In case you were interested, below is a quick video of how I incorporate MCT oil into my pre-workout training session.
Just a Little Bit of Protein Bro
You’ve heard this before, but I’ll remind you that having protein and its available amino acids limits protein from being used as a substrate during exercise while keeping protein synthesis (MPS) levels steady as this tends to go down during workouts.
A full steak may be too dense of a meal immediately prior to training, but a protein shake or BCAA supplement will do just fine.
Other quick and easy protein source for pre-workout nutrition include: beef jerky, turkey jerky or a simple protein shake.
Coffee. The Original Pre-Workout
Coffee offers a jolt of energy by blocking adenosine receptors in the body that would otherwise reduce neural activity.
For a more balanced and reduced intake of caffeine, opt for a Green tea, which contains an amino acid known as L-Theanine, which balances the stimulatory effect of caffeine. It also contains far less caffeine than the average cup of coffee.
For the most part, post workout nutrition involves higher insulinogenic foods paired with adequate protein intake.
Not only does the consumption of carbs post-workout replenish glycogen stores that we tapped into or depleted during intense exercise, but as a storage hormone, it promotes the absorption of amino acids into the blood stream needed for protein synthesis.
The body also happens to be more insulin sensitive and more receptive to food right after exercise, which is why I opt to have my calorically dense meals in the post workout window.
Ketosis and being fat adapted aside, post-workout nutrition can have an effect on cortisol secretion. This is particularly important post-workout as we’ll want cortisol to gradually come back to normal levels.
Don’t get me wrong, cortisol has a very important role during training, but if chronically elevated, it can have negative effects. Post workout carbs will bring cortisol levels back to a normal range and have favourable effects on things like the immune system.
Here’s what to eat…
When it comes to starchy carbs, I opt for faster digesting carbs like white rice. The fact that its fibre content is lower is beneficial in this context.
The faster it spikes insulin, the faster the absorption rate. Good post workout starchy carb sources include white rice, potatoes, rice cakes, and yes, bread. Clearly there are more fun ways of spiking your insulin (sugar, candy, cake), but lets consider gut health, long-term health and quality when choosing post-workout food options.
Opt for fruit lower in fructose as fructose is slower to absorb. This is due to the fact that it needs to be processed in the liver first.
Fruits that are lower in fructose include blackberries, blueberries, pineapple, kiwi, papaya, strawberries and grapefruit.
Protein: Whey or Vegan Protein Powder
It’s fast, easy to prepare, and even easier to digest…making protein powders an ideal option for post workout consumption. The amino acid Leucine is particularly beneficial because of its ability to keep protein synthesis (MPS) high after exercise.
Notice that fat is excluded here?
That’s because of its ability to slow down the absorption of food.
This is beneficial from a blood sugar standpoint as this can be useful for times when we need a slow supply of glucose, but not beneficial during a the post workout meal where quick absorption and assimilation is needed. When it comes to post workout nutrition, taking advantage of the body’s insulin sensitive state is the most important note to take home.
I get it.
For some: These recommendations may simply not matter, but for someone in the dark or struggling with general nutrition, building a habit based approach to what’s eaten immediately before and after training will produce at the very least, consistency.
For the trainers out there: Providing clients with a set of go-to recommendations gives the client a feeling of purpose and direction with training and nutrition. That in itself carries value and at the very least something to take away from this.
About the Author
Marc Capistrano is a Toronto based Certified Nutritionist, fitness enthusiast and content creator. He currently works out of downtown Toronto and maintains the Live It Holistic Nutrition blog.