We know that healthy eating is essential for all aspects of life; it helps us look better, feel better and live longer, fuller lives.
If you are a healthy person who exercises regularly, you should be achieving the basics as a minimum. Aim to eat around 1-2 hours pre- and post-training as the total amount of protein and carbohydrate consumed over the course of the day is paramount in relation to achieving lean mass gain, fat loss, and performance improvements. We should prioritise whole foods that provide an awesome blend of nutrients, fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to build muscle, provide fuel, encourage recovery and control inflammation. The specific makeup of your meals will vary, as there are many variables individual to you to consider such as goals, age, gender, health, intolerances, current eating habits and so on, but the core principles should remain.
However, people wanting to gain an extra edge on their performance and body composition goals can benefit from incorporating more specific nutrition timing protocols. When training for high-level competition, logging a lot of high intensity hours each week, and lifting weights with performance, strength and muscle growth in mind, energy intake should match output.
In order to be the best athletes we can, the most effective, efficient, durable athletes possible, then, in addition to the basics, there are some adjustments and incorporations to your diet that will support this.
What and when you eat before exercise can have an incredibly positive impact on your performance when implemented correctly.
The Basics: 2-3 hours before exercise have a mixed meal of protein, carbohydrates, fats, fruit and vegetables. Choose minimally processed, nutrient dense foods that you digest well, along with a low-calorie beverage like water to further aid digestion and fully hydrate the body in preparation for the upcoming event. Alternatively, 1-2 hours before exercise a smoothie or shake is a great option for a smaller, quicker and easily digestible option. Once again, I must stress that your specific needs will vary depending on your size, goals, genetics, and the duration and intensity of your upcoming activity.
The next step for enhanced results: There are a few supplements available that can really help you get a competitive edge when it comes to training performance. The two that I personally recommend are Beta-alanine and, more commonly known and readily available, Caffeine.
Beta alanine is an amino that is responsible for giving you a tingling feeling when exercising due to increased blood flow to the skin and active muscles, decreasing cellular acidity levels from intense exercise, leading to a possible 10.49% improvement on athletic performance. Two grams pre workout is all that you need to see a difference in your workout.
Caffeine is by far the most common ingredient found in pre-workout supplements and consumption before a workout can help improve athletic performance by anywhere between 2% and 16%. A simple coffee drink, preferably not heavily milk based, half an hour to 45 minutes before your session is a straightforward addition to your pre work out routine.
For most people, water is all that is needed during activity, especially if your training is less than 2 hours. However, intra-exercise nutrition is great for long, intense training and/or fluctuating energy levels in strenuous activity.
The Basics: Hydration is key and should be first and foremost for all.
The next step for enhanced results: Ingesting protein during exercise can help prevent muscle breakdown. This will lead to improved recovery and promote greater adaptation to training. Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) can be perfect supplement for this, 5-15 grams per hour of activity.
Carbohydrates during exercise help by providing an immediate fuel source to keep you performing at your best throughout. This of course helps increase and maintain performance levels, but also facilitates faster recovery which is crucial when trying to improve. The best ability is availability!
The maximum amount of carbohydrates that can be digested and absorbed during exercise is 60-80 grams per hour, my personal recommendation is VitargoUK.
However, combining both protein and carbohydrates, you can achieve the same endurance benefits with only 30-45 grams of carbohydrate per hour. On the go, a bar such as Science in Sport is a great option. When deciding how much you feel you need of either, think more protein during training to emphasise recovery, and less protein with more carbohydrates during an event or competition to emphasise performance.
Avoid eating fats during exercise due to their previously mentioned ability to slow down digestion. This can be useful pre-activity, but during a game or training when we need our performance to be at its absolute best, we need instant fuel and we need constant blood flow to the working muscles. The last thing an athlete needs is a food source that gives your stomach more work than it can handle.
Post-training nutrition should be primarily focussed on recovery, rehydration and refuelling to improve future performance and growth.
The Basics: Eating some protein after exercise prevents protein breakdown and stimulates protein synthesis, leading to increased and maintained muscle tissue. This is of course a great strategy for better recovery, adaptation and performance, and while a protein powder is extremely convenient at this time, any high-quality complete protein will do the job, generally, that means 40-60 grams for men and 20-30 grams for women.
If you trained fasted, if your pre-training meal was a small one or you ate it several hours before training, then get that post-workout meal in within an hour. If you ate a normal-sized mixed meal a couple of hours before training, or a small shake closer to training, get that post-workout meal in within one to two hours.
The next step for enhanced results: Eating a blend of minimally processed whole food carbohydrates, along with some fruit, to better restore or maintain liver glycogen, is a great choice for boosting recovery. Failing to replenish glycogen stores can contribute to fatigue and compromise an athlete’s ability to train at a high intensity in subsequent sessions.
Not necessarily a post-workout supplement but a great addition any time of day is creatine. Creatine is the most well researched supplement on the planet. It is naturally created in your body and is essential for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which your body needs to create energy. Creatine supplementation has been reported to improve power/strength, sprint performance and is known for its ability to help users gain muscle mass, drastically increasing overall athletic performance. Incorporating five grams in your day is another easily achievable addition with great return.