When it comes to improving physical performance, health or body composition, every meal of the day is important.
In the sports field or in those people who carry out any type of physical activity, it is obvious that the question that worries everyone the most is the following:
What should I eat before and after my workout or physical activity?
And, to offer a coherent answer to this common query, the first thing we must do is pay attention to the context; That is, the entire set of individual variables that determine the final result.
At the outset, let's ask ourselves the following questions:
- What is the goal of training or physical activity?
- What type of food or diet do I usually maintain?
- At what time of day will I do that activity?
- Am I a healthy person or do I have some type of pathology or disorder that could affect this intake?
- How much time do I have to eat?
Each and every one of those answers is important.
As this is a very extensive topic with many variables, in this first part, I will focus on people who are focused on improving their sports performance or even increasing muscle mass after intense weight training, CrossFit or any other vigorous activity. , who do not have any metabolic, endocrine or digestive problems (healthy people and athletes). In the next part, I will focus on people who want to lose fat or even have problems with overweight, obesity and even digestive disorders.
WHAT SHOULD I EAT BEFORE WORKOUT?
From the outset and as a general rule, my recommendation would be focused on eating carbohydrates both before and after training. This would allow us, on the one hand, to load our glycogen reserves (these are located in the liver and muscles) and have enough energy to carry out any type of high-intensity (anaerobic) activity, such as strength training. , a boxing session, a CrossFit WOD, etc. and in turn, the insulin spike caused by carbohydrate after training would allow for greater glycogen repletion for our post-workout recovery, as well as greater muscle protein synthesis (which cannot occur without insulin).
In this way, if you are an athlete or person identified with this goal, I recommend an intake of carbohydrates with a medium-low glycemic index (this measure refers to the speed with which a food raises blood glucose levels) about 3 hours (or more) before the activity, in the case of solid foods. This would allow (depending on the amount ingested and the combination of foods in that intake) to carry out at least a large part of the digestion, and avoid feeling heavy during the practice, in order to obtain the available energy from the food during the physical practice, without lowering performance.
So, depending on your eating style, you could use oats, sweet potatoes with skin (my favorite because they are a natural, unprocessed food), most whole grains and pseudo-cereals, some fruits, etc. along with a source of protein (in order to provide sufficient amino acids to avoid the loss of muscle mass) such as any meat, fish, eggs, etc. Or foods like Pan Fit Pro (ideal to consume pre and/or post workout, as it has 9 essential amino acids, sequential release carbohydrates and is high in protein). If we decide to add vegetables of any type, this would increase the fiber intake and delay digestion (and also the glycemic curve).
If you do not have 3 hours between training and eating, perhaps I would recommend more digestible and faster assimilation options such as white rice, peeled fruits, protein bars , etc.
Having said this, although it is true that fats are, from a physiological perspective, essential for health, in practice a large intake of them before training is NOT convenient for us, mainly because their inclusion, as in the case of fiber, would compromise digestion, delaying gastric emptying (the speed at which food passes from the stomach to the small intestine).
Finally, although proteins also take much longer than most carbohydrates to digest, my recommendation regarding this macronutrient is that we include it in each intake, in order to ensure we reach a threshold of between 1.5 and 1, 8 g/kg body weight (from net available protein, not feed). With this, we would ensure that we provide the necessary building material (amino acids) for muscle growth. We can do it either in the form of foods of animal or plant origin, or through a protein or essential amino acid supplement, which have greater digestibility and immediate bioavailability.
By following these guidelines, we would ensure that we have enough energy to face the training with sufficient intensity.
IMPORTANT NOTE: these recommendations are subject to many other variables and do not mean that it is imperative to consume carbohydrates before training. Therefore, you can gain muscle or perform perfectly in a fasting state or on a ketogenic diet (with sufficient prior adaptation time and in people with high metabolic flexibility), however, just because something is possible does not mean that it is what is possible. more recommended. In fact, if the goal is to gain muscle, some studies (like this one or this one ) indicate that it is better to train with more muscle glycogen.
WHAT SHOULD I EAT AFTER WORKOUT?
Once we know our priorities before training (mainly energy) after training, our priority is, in any case: recovering from physical activity and above all, starting the process of repair and growth of muscle tissue as soon as possible (especially in training very intense). The math doesn't fail: Stimulus (Training) + Protein intake + rest = Muscle growth.
In that sense, we must remember that protein destruction or catabolism increases significantly with training, and must be counteracted with an adequate intake of new amino acids for muscle regeneration.
Therefore, depending on the time you have to eat, as well as the time of day and your particular preferences, you would have two good options.
- The first option based on solid foods would be to provide a carbohydrate with a high glycemic index, such as potatoes (my favorite), cassava, white rice, or any other starch, along with a source of lean protein such as chicken, turkey (preferably free-range) or fish. At this moment what we are looking for is an insulin peak that allows the uptake of amino acids by the muscle to begin our recovery and begin muscle protein synthesis (the muscle growth phase).
There is considerable evidence that the presence of amino acids and insulin post-workout favors muscle synthesis and inhibits its destruction, which is especially important if you have trained on an empty stomach. More information here .
- The second option, easily digestible, is the combination of simple sugars: glucose + fructose, along with essential amino acids, which has proven to be very effective for muscle growth. Here are some options:
• 30g of protein (vegetable) + piece of fruit + protein bar . In addition to all that has been said, when reviewing what the studies tell us, we must be cautious and be careful with traditional conflicts of interest, taking into account that there are many studies funded by supplement companies that exaggerate the real benefits. But even taking that detail into account, the scientific evidence is solid. Some studies indicate that this protein synthesis is significantly higher in the moments after training. Other studies give less importance to the immediacy of ingestion, not finding much difference if it is done immediately after or after 3 hours; which would help us deny the famous “anabolic window” proposed by bodybuilding and fitness in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
The reality is that the body continues to synthesize protein for up to 24-48 hours after training, and while I do believe that timing matters, total protein intake is much more important than when it is consumed (hence my recommendation above).
Final note : as I usually say in the media that I use to disseminate, there are no absolute truths despite what science may support, first because each context in which each person finds themselves is individual and there are so many conditions and so many variables that Even the control groups of clinical trials cannot collect them all, and second, because there are also hundreds of types of physical activities that vary in intensity and muscle involvement of all of them. Perhaps it would be bold to compare the nutritional needs of a professional CrossFit athlete with those of a table tennis or basketball athlete.
However, the theory is clear and everything seems to indicate that although the human body is a perfect "machine" for adaptation and survival and has endogenous (internal) mechanisms to use or create its own energy (lipolysis, gluconeogenesis.) in certain cases of " Emergency " , obtaining energy from glucose/glycogen from food, is certainly a much more effective option (and less expensive physiologically speaking) before high intensity training. Afterwards, providing protein throughout the day will always be essential if we are looking for a gain in muscle mass, regardless of the time of day.
Don't miss the next part, where I will talk specifically about what are the best options if what we want is to perform in lower intensity sports and continuous oxygen supply (aerobic) or maximize the oxidation of fatty acids to improve our body composition or prevent overweight.
Thank you for reading this article.
Marc Romera -Elite Fitness-
Amino acids and metabolic impact .
Protein synthesis during and after exercise .
Insulin and its effects on exercise .
Protein synthesis .
Post Workout and glucose .
Post Workout and proteins.
Anabolism of muscle proteins .
Effects of supplementation time and resistance exercise on muscle hypertrophy .
Effect of muscle glycogen levels on protein catabolism during exercise .
Muscle glycogen after strength exercise.