One of the most frequently asked questions in the gym is what to eat before and after training, so here are some guidelines:
Your body uses two primary energy sources: Fat and Sugar (Carbohydrate*).
- Fat (ideally**) fuels low intensity activity e.g. what we spend most of our daily life doing.
- Carbohydrate fuels high intensity activity e.g. most of what we do in the gym.
* During digestion most carbohydrate is broken down into sugar.
** If sugar is present your body will use it for energy before fat. If there is an excess of sugar it will be turned to fat and stored.
When deciding what to combine in a meal or snack here are some simple rules:
- Carbs with Fat makes you fat. ***
- Carbs with Protein post-training.
- Fat and / or Protein pre-training.
*** We seem to be hard wired to enjoy the combination of fat and carbohydrate as an evolutionary survival mechanism, so that we store fat during times of plenty to offset the risk of famine. Carbohydrate raises insulin, a storage hormone, which helps circulating fat stick to your ribs.
Before training and generally during the first part of the day, eat mainly protein and fat. e.g.
- EGGS, MEAT, FISH
- SEEDS AND NUTS
- SALADS & LEAFY VEGETABLES
- AVOCADOS, OLIVE OIL, COCONUT
Avoid sugary foods and meals that are mostly carbs (e.g. bread, breakfast cereals) if you want to avoid the post carb crash.
If you are regularly eat carbs like cereals, bread, fruit (in other words you are a sugar burner) it may take a couple of weeks to adjust to living off fat and protein for the majority of the day. Some people get headaches or low energy, that’s just the demons leaving the body. It will pass.
The research on whether caffeine actually improves performance is mixed but many people find it gives them an energy boost. Personally I don’t use it every time I train, but I find it useful now and again.
If you have done some martial arts, a high volume of lifting, kettle bells or general high intensity training, get some quick releasing carbs and protein in straight after.
e.g. BANANA, WHEY PROTEIN
When choosing a protein supplement try to find one that has been processed as little as possible and contains no additives. Pink Sun is a good choice.
If you have been sweating a lot it is a good idea to eat or drink a pinch of unrefined salt. The minerals in unrefined salt help your cells absorb water. As you have just sweated out a lot of salt, if you don’t replace it your body will not retain as efficiently any fluids you put in.
Post Training Meals
Within an hour or two eat a meal consisting of mainly carbohydrate and protein plus some salad or leafy vegetables.
- Best sources of protein: MEAT, FISH, EGGS.
- Best sources of carbohydrate: STARCHY VEG: POTATO, SWEET POTATO, YAM, PLANTAIN, CASSAVA (these starches are also good sources of vitamins and nutrients).
- Less good carbohydrate but still acceptable occasionally: WHITE RICE, RICE NOODLES (pure starch, no other nutrients).
- Rubbish: BREAD, PASTA, PASTRY AND OTHER WHEAT FLOUR STODGE
During the ‘post training window’ (1-2 hours) carbs are quickly absorbed into the muscles (i.e. less likely to be converted to fat). Evening carbs also improve sleep quality and thus improve recovery. Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that restricting your carbs to late in the day is more effective than restricting carbs to earlier in the day for fat loss.
How much protein and carbohydrate you need is quite individual and depends on how much work you have done.
- More energy expended = more carbs.
- More muscle breakdown = more protein.