09 Dec 2022
You’re about to hit the gym – but you haven’t eaten yet. Should you eat now or save it for a post-workout feast? Here’s what you need to know about fueling and refueling your body.
Unless you want to sell yourself short of a good workout, you need to eat before you put on your trainers. Without food to fuel your body, muscle tissue is converted into glucose, giving you the energy you need at the expense of muscle building or weight loss. This will also negatively affect your metabolism and could potentially lead to injury, as a result of fatigue or light-headedness.
You don’t need to sit down to a three-course meal before a workout, but you do need to ensure you’re fuelling up with the right balance of carbohydrates and protein.
The key to releasing a steady stream of energy during a workout comes down to a mixed bag of complex and simple carbohydrates. Slow digesting carbs offer long lasting energy, perfect for those low intensity or longer workout sessions. Wholegrain oats are rich in beta-glucan, a fibre that keeps your blood sugar on even grounds. Additionally, healthy sugars from dried fruit provide a quick energy boost.
Be sure not to shy away from your fruit – many people try to avoid loading up on high carb fruits, however protein won’t break down fast enough to become your workout fuel. Carbs from fruit break down quickly, while their protein is used later to prevent muscle damage.
When it comes to gearing up for workout, carbs are your gym BFF. The key is to have a mixed bag of complex and simple ones so that the release of energy during your workout is slow and steady throughout your routine. Whole-wheat toast with fruit gives you both types of carbs with the bonus of being super easy to digest. Complex carbs will keep your motor humming, while the fruit adds an extra kick of energy. For those training for a race, bananas are perfect in raising potassium levels, which drop when you sweat a lot. For an added bonus, add a dash of cinnamon. The spice has been linked to stabilizing blood sugar and improving brain function.
Getting ready for a long run? Eat some yogurt first. It’s easy on your stomach and when paired with trail mix can give you the little rev your body needs. Just make sure to choose a mix that is mostly nut and dried fruit based with as little fillers as possible. (Yes, sadly we’re talking about those little chocolates!) The healthy sugars from dried fruit provide that quick energy boost while seeds and nuts will keep insulin levels from dropping mid-workout. Just remember, a little bit goes a long way. Seeds and nuts are high in fat, which means they take longer to digest. Too many and you could start feeling sluggish and slow as you sweat.
Need a snack on-the-go on your way to the gym? Stick with a smoothie. Not only are they time-friendly, building your own blend has a bunch of exercise benefits. For a foolproof formula, use your favourite sliced fruit, a cup of Greek yogurt and some granola for a thicker consistency. If you’re picking one up, check the label to make sure it’s made from whey or milk-based proteins. And no need to go overboard — 10 to 20 grams of protein before exercising is plenty.
Oatmeal is the workout buddy you never have to nag to exercise. It sticks with you throughout your workout by gradually releasing sugar into your bloodstream. Adding fruit to your bowl will help increase the fluid content of your pre-workout snack, keeping you hydrated.
If it comes down to picking out of the candy dish or an apple for some pre-workout sugar, go for the apple. You’ll avoid a sugar crash mid-lunge while stocking up on vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. To keep your stomach from growling, spread a tablespoon of almond butter on your slices. It squashes hunger and amps energy levels up.
Eating after a workout isn’t optional – unless you want to undo your hard work.
After an intense workout, your body is in recovery mode, and it needs the right fuel to rebuild its glycogen stores, and repair and regrow muscle proteins. Eating the right balance of nutrients (particularly carbohydrates and protein) after a workout will help the body to:
Decrease muscle protein breakdown
Increase muscle protein growth
Restore glycogen stores
If you do not eat after a workout, you may experience fatigue and low blood sugar, a result of neglecting your body of the essential electrolytes it needs to work efficiently. Additionally, if you’re pumping out a heavy weights’ session, you’re tearing your muscle fibres. To effectively rebuild these to become stronger, you need to be feeding them with a balance of protein and carbohydrates.
If you can, eat something within 30 minutes after finishing your workout (or, if you’re on the go, a protein shake immediately after your training session).
Your body is in recovery mode, so you need a nutrient dense dish. The lean protein and carbohydrates in chicken will fill you up without feeling overly bloated. Add some veggies in olive oil to keep your ticker in tip top shape.
You already know eggs are a great source of protein and help aid in muscle recovery and growth. Switch it up from the usual scramble and make a veggie-packed omelette. Garnish with a few slices of avocado for fibre and monosaturated fats (the good kind!). Similar to olive oil, avocados can help your body better absorb fat soluble nutrients that your veggies have like vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins are stocked with antioxidants, the best boost for your body, inside and out.
Aside from the usual protein perks, salmon has bioactive peptides, small protein molecules that play a role in inflammation reduction, helping to regulate insulin levels and give you joint support. Sweet potatoes pack in those complex carbs as well as help to restore glycogen levels, which get depleted after a workout.
If you’re a lunchtime exerciser, this is the sandwich for you. Tuna is low in calories, but high in protein and carbs. Hummus is a better-for-you spread over mayo or mustard, while also being high in fiber. And last but certainly not least, spinach is a produce powerhouse, handling everything from curbing your appetite to boosting your complexion and lowering blood pressure and inflammation.
Recent research has shown that chocolate milk is the latest craze in post-workout snacks, even over water and sports drinks. That’s because it has everything you need in one glass: carbs and protein for muscle recovery, water content to replace the fluids lost as sweat and calcium, sodium and sugar — all ingredients that help you recover faster, retain water and regain energy.
Discover more about the effects of food on the body with the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers’ 10967NAT Diploma of Nutrition. Call 1300 616 180 today!
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