Making the right meal and snack choices is one thing, but so is knowing when to eat – fuelling your body just before and after a workout session can help boost your metabolism, enhance muscle growth, burn fat and will keep you energised!
There is no clear evidence to suggest that fasting before exercise can increase the amount of fat burnt. However it is understood that regularly exercising without eating first can cause muscle loss, this is due to the fact that your body will pull existing protein from your body – firstly from your muscles instead of from your kidneys or liver where protein would have been deposited after a rich meal. This in turn will cause muscle loss, slowing down metabolism and eventually reducing weight loss. So if you’re aiming to lose weight, tone up or build some lean muscle, to reach that goal eating well and regular before hitting the gym is absolutely crucial.
Therefore, give your body the fuel it needs to power through a vigorous workout session by snacking on complex carbohydrates and proteins. Such nutrients can keep you feeling full for longer and keep your energy levels high during your training session.
Aim to eat a majority of your carbohydrates around your workout –this is so that all the carbohydrates which are consumed can be healthily utilised into energy and to restore glycogen levels. You don’t need to worry about carbohydrates being turned into and stored as fat as long as you eat them at a moderate level. Ideally, try to eat one meal a couple of hours before your gym session so that your meal has been well digested and is keeping your blood sugar and glycogen levels optimal. Sweet potatoes, oatmeal and brown rice are all excellent sources for carbohydrates to turn to before exercising.
The research appears to indicate that those who use whey protein before exercising will have better workout results than those who use other or no source of protein at all. Studies also show that whey protein users have a higher resting energy expenditure of up to 6% for up to 48 hours and will also drop cortisol levels (1).
Taking in protein, either from fast-absorbing sources such as whey protein or from a regular natural source such as eggs and meat will help your body build up your muscles instead of breaking down existing muscles.
As you are working out your body will tap into your muscles glycogen stores for energy. It is recommended that you eat or drink something which contains both protein and complex carbohydrates within an hour of your workout to refill your energy stores, build your muscles and keep metabolism levels high.
Experts recommend eating sooner rather than later after exercising as studies have shown waiting to eat two hours after a training session can decrease your body’s ability to refill muscle stores by 50% (2). Aim to plan ahead and bring a recovery drink or snack with you to the gym.
Easy to make protein shakes, made from protein powder, hemp seeds and bananas or a peanut butter sandwich made from multigrain bread can help you quickly recover and regain your energy levels.
Tuna* is loaded with protein, omega-3 fatty acids and can offer an instant kick of vital energy by raising blood sugar levels. Some people even consider eating a tuna sandwich alone is just as good as a protein shake, therefore it’s the ideal solution if you’re craving a meal instead or are lactose intolerant and unable to use protein shakes. Best of all if you’re feeling sore, it can reduce inflammation after a workout!
(*Only fresh tuna is high in omega 3 so this needs to be specified. Most people would make a sandwich with tinned tuna which doesn’t count as an oily fish.)
Exercise can lead to a risk of dehydration, therefore along with healthy meals and regular workout sessions it is vital to stay well hydrated. You should aim to drink a minimum of three glasses of water, before and then after your workout and at least one glass during your workout. Pure water alone is the best source to replace lost fluids, however if you are exercising for more than one hour a sports drink can be used. Sports drinks will help to maintain your body’s electrolyte balance and increase energy levels as they contain carbohydrates.