As the old adage goes, two thirds of training is done in the kitchen – you wouldn’t expect your car to perform at its best without the right fuel in the tank, which is even more true with your body.
“You really have to look at your workout and exercise regime holistically,” says Andy Wadsworth, elite cycling trainer with bwcycling.co.uk and former World X-Terra Triathlon Champion. “It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to lose weight, bulk up, or build endurance, the right dietary plan should be in place before you even think about training.”
Here Wadsworth explains the key foods you should be eating before and after workouts to maximise your gain.
Do your prep – Pre-workout go-to foods
Slow oats for great gains
Due to the presence of the beta-glucan fibre, oats release carbohydrates slowly which ensure a consistent energy supply throughout your training session. This will help you train with a higher intensity for longer. Another benefit is that oats are high in B vitamins which help to convert carbohydrates into energy for the muscles.
Timing is key too. “I’d advise having a bowl of porridge 60-90 minutes before your training session and for those looking to build muscle, add a scoop of protein powder,” adds Wadsworth.
Keep it sweet
“This is another great source of complex carbohydrates,” says Wadsworth. “Eating a meal containing sweet potatoes prior to working out will help to boost your body’s glycogen stores - carbs stored in the body. This means your muscles will be primed to work hard for the whole session without unnecessary fatigue. Another bonus is that sweet potatoes also contain vitamin C which helps to prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue.”
“A fast-acting carbohydrate source, a pre-workout banana will provide your body with simple carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and fuel the muscles for a tough workout,” explains Wadsworth.
“Bananas are not only loaded with carbohydrates, but also contain potassium, which supports muscle and nerve function. Bananas are a perfect way to boost your glycogen stores, increase blood sugar levels and increase your energy output. As it’s a fast-release energy source, try consuming a banana 30 minutes prior to working out.”
“Chicken is another staple pre-workout go-to,” says Wadsworth. “By combining a lean protein source with complex carbohydrates, this meal will provide a slow release source of energy along with amino acids to aid protein synthesis. Aim to consume this slightly heavier meal around 60 minutes prior to your work out to avoid bloating.”
Back to black
“As well as providing you with a boost of energy to increase the intensity of your training session, having a black coffee before working out has been shown to slow the depletion of glycogen,” he says. “It helps to improve endurance and allow for longer training sessions to be completed. Another benefit is that the caffeine in black coffee has been shown to reduce pain perception during high intensity exercise, allowing you to push that little bit harder.”
Fruit and Greek yogurt
While fresh fruit is always good, dried fruit provides a better source of energy. “Dried fruit is loaded with carbohydrates which can be broken down extremely quickly, thus giving you fuel for your workout,” says Wadsworth. “Greek yoghurt is not only light on the stomach, but is a healthy source of protein which is stored for longer and used to repair muscle tissue damaged during the workout.”
Don’t stop there – Best post-workout foods
Nailing your post-workout nutrition promotes quicker recovery, reduces muscle soreness, builds muscle, improves immune system functioning, and replenishes glycogen — all key building blocks in priming you for future workouts, Wadsworth says.
Immediately after a workout, your brain doesn’t let you feel hungry. This blunting of hunger can last for 30 minutes to four hours after a work-out. Exercise increases your body’s heat production (a.k.a. metabolism), so blood is diverted from your gastrointestinal tract to other parts of your body that need it more.
“Aim to refuel within a 30-45-minute window of finishing your workout for maximum gains,” he says.
In a study1 from the University of Illinois, men who ate whole eggs – rather than just egg whites – after exercise saw a 40 percent greater muscle-building response, even though both contained the same amount of protein, The nutrients in the yolk – healthy fats, and minerals like phosphorous and iron – allow tired muscles to use the protein more efficiently, the authors speculate.
Mash a few hard-boiled eggs with some Greek yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon yellow curry powder and a pinch of salt. Spread on wholemeal toast.
As little as 9 grams of dairy may be enough to kick-start the muscle-building process. Research in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition2 credit the specific amino acids in dairy such as ricotta which contains whey protein and activates mTOR protein in muscles to stimulate growth.
“Adding carbs to whey protein makes bones stronger too,” Wadsworth says.
Top 60 grams of low-fat ricotta cheese with granola and fresh berries for the perfect post-workout muscle builder
Research3 shows that higher intakes of the omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish — like salmon, sardines and mackerel — may translate into lower levels of delayed onset muscle soreness after resistance exercise.
“Omega-3s go into your muscles’ cells to reduce inflammation, while also increasing muscle protein synthesis,” explains Wadsworth.
Spread 2 tablespoons of cream cheese on a small whole grain wrap and top with 75g sliced smoked salmon.
Over the past few years, Greek yogurt has gained all the attention while cottage cheese has fallen by the wayside.
While both are great, cottage cheese actually has more protein gram for gram, as well as just under 3 grams of leucine per 1 cup. This amount has been shown to help with building and/or maintaining muscle post exercise4.
Fat-free Cottage Cheese is a great, guilt-free, on-the-go option.
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