It’s an age-old fitness question – when is the best time to eat before and after a workout? Also, what kinds of foods, what quantities, and how does the workout type affect the ideal nutrition regimen? Well, there are, of course, a lot of variables based on body type, experience level and personal habits, but it’s safe to give some general rules of thumb for anyone heading in for a regular lifting-based strength and conditioning workout. We spoke with Holly Perkins, a certified strength and conditioning specialist with Promax Nutrition, to give us some of the basics.
1. Pre-workout eating is all about digestibility
Using common sense, or perhaps even bad personal experiences, the gist of this one isn’t tough to figure out—don’t chow down on burgers and shakes within an hour of a workout or all that hoisting and jostling will induce queasiness and shift your focus to keeping your lunch down, as opposed to trying to, you know, get stronger. “Avoid foods that are high in fat or fiber,” Perkins says. “Ideally, you’ll want a carb-protein-fat breakdown of about 40-40-20.” Perkins says that grabbing a meal 90 to 120 minutes prior to a workout is a solid timetable for most people, although digestion rates vary from person to person. A snack in the range of 200 to 250 calories in the last hour before a workout is also helpful to satisfy cravings and keep hunger pangs from ruining your exercise session. Perkins, of course, recommends Promax Original or Pro Series bars to tamp down food urges late in the game.
2. Don’t go in running on empty
“A lot of guys go into workouts empty, or on salad, or they’re going for a protein bar that’s just pure protein, but you really have to have some carbohydrates in there for the workouts,” Perkins says. To be at their best, your muscles need to already be in the process of refueling and rebuilding. If you go into a workout hungry, your muscles aren’t ready to work—they’re clamoring for more nutrients to complete the tasks you’re laying out for them. So, make sure to find that proper balance between going into workouts hungry and going in full.
3. Post-workout, eat some carbs first
A common misconception about benefiting from post-exercise eating is the need to pound the protein as soon as possible. It’s important, but the body actually has some time to settle down after the workout before needing the repairing qualities of a fast-digesting protein like a whey protein shake. “I recommend people grab some form of a fast carbohydrate to spike their insulin right after working out,” Perkins says. “It could be fruit, half a sports drink or anything like that.” Post-workout, your muscles are spent and need to be kicked into the recovery process quickly – carbs are your top priority here, but protein is right behind.
4. Carbs are even more important after an endurance workout
Once again, protein is still important, but after doing a long, slow-burning activity like a 10-mile run, glycogen levels are going to be low and need to be replenished with more carbs. A regular strength and conditioning post-workout carb-to-protein ratio is often recommended to be 2 or 3 to 1, but for endurance athletes, who test their muscles with less force but for longer periods of time, it’s more like 4 to 1. So, make sure to carbo-load afterwards too!