Two questions I get asked a lot are "What should I eat before and after I workout?" and "What supplements should I take." And these are both great questions, because the food we eat and the supplements we take have a huge impact on how we perform in the gym and how we recover from our workouts.
Pre workout nutrition
Pre workout nutrition can vary depending on the type of workout you're about to do, but as a general rule, getting adequate carbohydrates is going to provide you with the most energy to get through your training. How much, what and when to eat will also vary, and I suggest playing around with timing. But getting a decent amount of carbohydrates (approximately 30% of your daily intake) between 1 to 3 hours before training is a good place to start.
Your pre workout meal should also contain some protein. Protein provides the amino acids your muscles need, and it's essential in the repair and rebuild process.
Another option is to train fasted. Your body will rely on stored glycogen and also learn how to use fat as fuel. This is a more advanced method and can take some time to adapt to, but it's a great option for endurance athletes or anyone who competes in a sport where long conditioning is required.
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Pre workout supplements
There are a lot of pre workout supplements on the market, but my all time favorite is a good cup of coffee. If I'm training in the morning I like a hot cup of coffee with breakfast, and if its a hot afternoon I like to stop at Whole Foods Market for a cold brew.
Another great pre workout supplement is BCAAs, or branch chain amino acids. There are 3 BCAAs, leucine, isoleucine and valine. Like the other essential amino acids, BCAAs must be consumed in your diet. But unlike the other essential amino acids, these 3 are transported directly from the liver to the bloodstream. Foods such as chicken, fish and eggs are rich in BCAAs, however athletes may find it beneficial to supplement during training. BCAAs increase the rate of protein synthisis and aid in muscle recovery and performance. I really like MRM's watermelon flavored BCAAs.
Post workout nutrition
Post workout nutrition is just as important, if not more important, than your pre workout nutrition. During training you deplete your glycogen stores (your fuel source) and break down your muscles. Getting adequate carbohydrates post workout starts the replenishment process of glycogen and getting adequate protein starts the repair process of your muscles. A 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is a good ratio to start with. Some people have a difficult time stomaching whole foods right after training and might find protein powders and shakes to be a beneficial post workout supplement.
It's still important to eat whole foods as much as possible because of the vitamins and minerals they provide. Our bodies absorb the nutrients from whole foods best. Within a few hours after training make sure to get a balanced meal full of protein, healthy fats, and vitamin rich carbohydrates (ie. colorful veggies!)
Post workout supplements
As I mentioned above, protein powders can provide adequate post workout nutrition when whole foods aren't available or the thought of eating food doesn't sit well. There are a variety of products available depending on your diet and taste preferences. If you're vegan, vegetarian, paleo, dairy free, gluten free, etc. there are products that fit your lifestyle. I'd just suggest trying them until you find one you love. You can find protein powders made from milk, hemp, rice, eggs, peas, collagen and more. Protein enhances muscle growth and aids in recovery, and powders can be a convenient and easy way to make sure you're getting enough protein in your diet. If you're looking for an assortment of high quality products, check out Whole Foods Market. I'm always impressed by their selection.
Another supplement to consider post (or intra) workout is an electrolyte supplement. If you're eating healthy and drinking plenty of water you may not need one, but in extreme cases during excessive exercise when a lot of fluids are lost, supplementing with electrolytes can be beneficial so that you can continue training and avoid dehydration. I love the Vega brand products. They're all plant based and high quality.
If you participate or compete in a sport with high intensity activities like weight lifting or sprinting, a creatine supplement can help improve performance. During short bursts of movement lasting less than 10 seconds, energy is provided by the phosphagen system. This system replenishes your ATP (adenosine triphosphate) stores, so that your cells can continue to provide you with energy. This system is continually breaking down and building back up ATP, which is why these spurts of energy can't continue for longer than 10 seconds. However, by supplementing with creatine, you can create more ATP and therefore improve performance in short high intensity activities. I like to take a pure creatine monohydrate powder without additives or flavoring.
Our bodies need a balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 rich foods. However, in our current Western diet, we get a lot of Omega-6 fats (plant oils), and often lack Omega-3s. Increasing your intake of Omega-3 through diet and supplementation can greatly improve your health. Omega-3 fats are important for your immune health, cardiovascular function and help your brain grown and develop. Fish oil is also a powerful anti-inflammatory. Check the label when buying an Omega-3 supplement to make sure there's approximately 200-300 mg of DHA per capsule.
Not everyone needs a Vitamin D supplement, but there is a good chance you're deficient if you aren't getting enough sunshine. The body requires Vitamin D to absorb calcium and helps to maintain bone and muscle function. Consider a Vitamin D supplement if you spend most of your time indoors or if you live somewhere without a lot of sunshine.
Magnesium has a wide variety of benefits. Magnesium helps convert food to energy, it regulates heart rhythms and it allows muscles to contract and relax properly. Because magnesium helps with muscle relaxation, it can have a calming effect that helps you sleep better. Also, if you experience constipation, increasing your magnesium intake can help relieve your symptoms.
Everyone has their own individual needs when it comes to supplements. This is a list that I find beneficial, especially as an athlete, for overall health and performance.
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