Jade Teta ND, CSCS
One of the regular questions we get asked by our clients is what they should eat before and after their workouts. If you have ever taken a metabolic effect class you have probably heard your trainer mention something to you about staying away from alcohol and sugar and focusing on vegetables, protein and water after your workout. You may be wondering why this is important and also what if anything you can eat before the workout. Here are several points to keep in mind when you are thinking about eating and your workout.
When you exercise you are altering key hormones in the body that determine whether you burn or store fat and if you will build muscle or break it down. Food, like exercise, manipulates these same hormones. If you dont pay close attention to what you eat, you will create a tug-o-war between what hormones exercise releases and what hormones your food releases. The impotant thing to remember is that hormones act like people and will have different actions depending on the other hormones that are released together with them. Insulin is a major hormone in the body that is responsible for storing fat. However, it is also one of the most powerful hormones for building muscle. It turns out the timing of a carbohydrate rich meal will determine which predominates, fat burning or muscle burning or fat burning and muscle building. If you eat suagry and starchy foods before your workout you will increase insulin and decrease the fat burning effect of your workout. That is why we advise staying away from these foods before a workout and during the workout. Gatorade, fruit juices, and other sprots drinks, along with traditonal carbs like pasta, rice, and bread should not be used before a work. However, these same foods eaten in moderation and with plenty of protein after your workout may provide some benefit assuming you are not overdoing. 10-15 bites of these foods after a workout should provide enough of an insulin secretion to drive muscle building, but not so much to slow fat burning. Here are some general tips on pre and post workout nutrition to insure the right hormonal balance.
1. Do whey protein 60-45 minutes before you workout- Whey protein has been shown to decrease the cortisol effects of a workout while increasing serotonin. This means a harder workout and better recovery. It will also provide the body with a readily available source of amino acids to sustain blood sugar while at the same time generating less insulin than a carb heavy meal
2. Avoid sweetened sports drinks before or during your workout- Unless you are running a marathon drinking gatorade or other sports drinks during your workout will decrease the amount of fat you burn during your workout. This is because the high-fructose corn syrup and/or glucose will negatively impact insulin levels resulting in less fat calories used in the workout.
3. Do Whey protein with a touch of sweet after your workout- Within 30-90 minutes after a workout, utilize a whey protein shake again but this time add a little bit of honey, grape juice, coconut water or chocolate milk. The sugars in these foods will help raise insulin and lower cortisol and favor muscle building over fat storage. Remember don’t over do it, no more than 50g of carbohydrate is all you need…..about a tablespoon of honey, 1/4 cup grape juice, 22 oz of coconut water, or 8oz chocolate milk will do the trick.
4. Avoid carbohydrates by themselves, heavy fats, and alcohol– A high carbohydrate/starch/sugar meal (>50g) or carbohydrates and any level without protein is not a good idea post workout if you are trying to burn fat. In the post-workout period your body is undergoing a unique biochemical process of repairing tissue and mobilizing fat stores. Anything that blunts this process will not aid your fat loss goals. High carbohydrates raise insulin levels which will stop fat burning in its tracks. By the same token, adding extra fat into the body during this time allows the body to spare its own fat and use what you just ate instead. Alcohol raises acetate levels in the blood which can be used by the body instead of fat to power recovery. Non of these scenarios is going to aid your fat loss goals. If putting on size is your goal, which it is for some, you can get away with a little extra carbohydrate intake post-workout but if you go overboard fat will be built right along with your new muscle.