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What you consume before you exercise is what fuels your workout and what you eat thereafter is also just as important. Determining what is the best meal to have before and after a workout can be a difficult decision, there are so many options available to us that it can become confusing trying to figure out what is the best option is. Supplements aside, you need to consume real foods, the kind of foods you would enjoy despite the workout, but it is essentially helping you to reach your fitness goals. Being thoughtful about what you eat before and after exercising will help you to maximise the benefits of all your hard work at the gym.

What you should be eating before a workout

Some people prefer not to eat before a workout, especially if they are exercising first thing in the morning. For some people this would be ok but if you struggle with blood sugar problems or you tend to feel dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous or lethargic when exercising, then you may want to consider having a meal or snack before your workout. Training on an empty stomach will cause you to burn muscle and fat as your system is depleted. Therefore, we recommend supplementing with Amino Acids (e.g. BCAAs/L-Glutamine). Skipping a meal before exercising can also negatively impact your performance during training and reduce your gains.

Here’s how and what to eat before a workout to build lean muscle and maximise exercise performance.

  1. Time your pre-workout meal/snack right

The ideal time to eat is anywhere between 45-60 minutes before training to ensure glycogen (stored energy) levels are not depleted before training. Eating in this window period also prevents your blood sugar from dropping while training, therefore, preventing fatigue and further muscle damage. If you are training first thing in the morning, you most likely won’t be able to fit a whole meal in before training. A small snack 30 minutes before training should suffice. This would be ideal if your goal is to build lean muscle. If your goal is to lose body fat, only train on an empty stomach, if you are supplementing with BCAAs or L-Glutamine. Here are our recommended products: (link to BCAA 10:1:1, Amino Armour, L-Glutamine)

This will prevent fatigue as well as prevent your body from breaking down and utilizing your hard-earned muscle for energy. In turn your body will be driven to target your body fat as an energy source as the amino acids protect your muscles.

  1. Drink water!

It is important to be hydrated before you start your workout, if you lack hydration you are more prone muscle cramps and spasms and dehydration can cause low energy during your workout.

  1. Make sure your pre-workout snack/meal has carbs and protein

Carbohydrates equals energy – when we consume carbs, they break down into glucose, enter our muscle cells and give us fuel to exercise at our maximum capacity. Eating carbs before you exercise ensures that you’ll have additional glucose on hand if you need to replenish those glycogen stores. If you lack glucose during your workout, you’ll likely feel lethargic and weak. In addition to carbs it’s ideal to consume some protein before your workout, especially when doing weight training. When we do strength training (lifting weights), we create small tears in our muscle fibres and when we rest, our body repairs those micro-tears, building our muscle to be bigger and stronger – and our body needs protein to do this.

Here are a few pre-workout snacks/meals ideas:

  • Baked salmon, brown rice and roasted veggies
  • Oatmeal with peanut butter and fruit
  • Rice cakes topped with nut butter
  • An apple/pear with nut butter
  • Greek yoghurt with granola and berries

What to eat post-workout

Make sure to eat something ASAP after training .

It’s important to replenish the glycogen that has been depleted during training. Eating protein is a must as well as it helps speed up muscle recovery, especially after weight training. If you don’t eat after a workout, you can end up feeling fatigued and in some cases battle with low blood sugar. You’re also inhibiting your body’s repair process. If you are constantly skipping your meals after a workout, it will become harder to build build as well as sustain your hard earned muscle.

Here’s how and what to eat after a workout.

Your post workout meal should be consumed within an hour after training. This should consist of simple and complex carbohydrates (glucose and fructose) as well as quality protein. This will assist with restoring glycogen levels and the protein will assist in building and repairing muscle tissue. Research shows that consuming only protein post-workout is not ideal, as your body will use the protein as a source of energy. This will negatively impact recovery, as the protein will not be used to repair the muscle tissue, but as a source of energy instead. Only once glycogen is restored to adequate levels will your body efficiently utilise the protein to repair the damaged muscle fibres.

Here are a few post-workout meal/snack ideas:

  • Glass of chocolate milk
  • Slice of whole wheat toast with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and a banana
  • A protein-rich green smoothie
  • Steamed fish with a baked sweet potato and sautéed spinach
  • Omelette with avocado and roasted potatoes
  • 1-2 hard-boiled eggs with a slice of whole wheat toast
  • Whole wheat pita stuffed with grilled veggies, shredded chicken and 2 tablespoons hummus