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Workout nutrition is the subject of endless discussion on body building and fitness forums, but for most people a basic understanding is enough to optimise a moderate workout.
The main goals are to promote energy during a workout – so you can exercise more – and improving recovery afterwards. But how do you achieve that?
If you ever find you don’t have enough energy to do the workout you want, your pre-workout nutrition could be the culprit.
There is a long standing myth that not eating before a workout will help you burn more fat – without an alternative energy source the body is reduced to using stored fat for energy – but this is untrue: you simply don’t have the energy to work out effectively. Before any workout, particularly cardio, make sure you fuel up. The more energy you have, the longer you can work out for and the more benefit you’ll get from the exercise.
With that in mind, carbs are the most important food group to absorb before a workout. Protein shouldn’t be overlooked though – protein helps burn fat and build lean muscle (which is why pre-workout protein shakes are popular with body builders), so it may be a good idea to include some in your pre-workout snack.
What to eat depends on how long you have before your workout. If you only have 45 minutes, simple carbs like fruit or fruit juice are probably best. If you have up to two to four hours then slow release, complex carbs like wholegrain bread or oats will serve you best. The idea is to time the release of energy to coincide with your workout.
Good foods to try before a workout (in order of time) are:
- Wholegrain bread
- Peanut butter and apple
- Dried fruit/berries
Timing is critical. If you work out in the morning, be sure to eat something beforehand, or if you really don’t have time, eat something right before bed – this will fuel you when you wake up. If you exercise after work (e.g. 6pm) don’t rely solely on lunch, have a snack around 4pm.
The goal with post-workout nutrition is to maximise recovery. Any novice exerciser will be familiar with the aching that follows them around for a day or two after exercising. That feeling is muscle damage. The key is getting the right nutrition to help the body replace lost nutrients and re-build muscle.
You need to absorb protein, and quickly, within 30 minutes of exercising. Whey-based protein shakes are an excellent post-workout recovery aid, providing all the protein you need in one quick hit. Whey protein is particularly rich in BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids), which are essential for building muscle.
Even better, find one with L-glutamine (also available as a separate supplement). L-glutamine – sometimes just known as glutamine – is a non-essential amino acid that can become essential in certain situations e.g. after intense training.
L-glutamine is produced naturally in the body and helps prevent muscle breakdown (catabolism). Intensive exercise can lead to a need for more L-glutamine than the body can produce – hence L-glutamine supplements.
Additionally, exercisers will be familiar with the short-term immunosuppression effect of exercise. There is evidence to suggest that taking L-glutamine may help restore the immune system following a workout.
Man cannot live on protein shakes alone. For full post-workout meals, aim for meals high in protein and slow release carbs. Meat, particularly steak and chicken, will provide plenty of protein as well as amino acids like L-glutamine.
Aim for wholegrain carbs – wholemeal bread, wholemeal wraps, whole wheat pitta. However, post-workout is one situation where you can switch from brown to white rice. The high GI content will replenish your muscles with glucose more quickly. But stay away from processed carb territory like white pasta or white bread.
If you’re aiming for weight loss you may generally avoid fruit due to the sugar content, but after a workout should be fine. Fruit like bananas, apples and berries can provide a quick energy boost to get you going again; particularly bananas.
If you’re not ready for a full meal, try one of these quick and easy post-workout snacks:
- Yoghurt and fresh berries
- Hummus and whole-wheat pitta
- Fruit salad
Once you get more serious about your exercise regime, you can get deeply involved in the exact mix of nutrients before and after workouts. Until then, these simple nutrition tips should help you work out better, for longer, and feel better afterwards.
For more information about L-glutamine visit http://www.reflex-nutrition.com/l-glutamine.html/.