Your workout nutrition can be classified into three categories: Pre-workout (what you eat before a workout), Intra-workout (what you eat during) and Post-workout (what you eat 2-3 hours after) nutrition. On the health and fitness world, there is a lot of talk about what you should have as a pre & post-workout meal.
Evidence-based research suggests that the quantities and degree of adherence to a specific nutritional program will depend on your level and intensity of exercise. Ask yourself how intense will your session be? How long will it take? A 3-hour session will require more nutrients than a 45minute session. How frequently do you train? Do you train 3,4,5 or 6 times per week? What are your goals? Change in body composition, weight loss, increase body mass or be healthier overall. What is your body type? Are you long and lean and can tolerate carbs easily but find it hard to build muscle; do you have a high tendency to store body fat and a low carbohydrate tolerance or are you muscular and athletic? How well do you tolerate carbs?
All of these questions will determine how many carbohydrates you should eat.
In addition, when you train or exercise you are going over the process of muscle breakdown. This breakdown of muscle uses your glucose storage in your blood and later, if needed, from your muscles, as energy. How you feel during a training session will depend on your glucose levels: low blood sugar means you fatigue faster and will feel “low” on energy. Constant blood sugar will translate into feeling mentally “sharp” and “tough” and with enough energy. After your workout, your body begins the process of repairing the damaged muscle. So, an important goal when training is to avoid a drop in blood sugar.
Also, stress and adrenaline will deplete your sugar stores, and the stored glucose in your muscles ( glycogen stores) will deplete too. Our body can use the stored fuel if the tank is empty, but eventually, it will need to be filled up again.
So, ideally, we replenish our glycogen storage with carbohydrates after and during a session. Not every session will require you to restock while you train because it will depend on the intensity and length. Usually having enough water is sufficient. If your training session is longer than 1,5 hours and your goal is to lose weight, it’s recommended that you take some BCAA’s (BCAAs stand for branched chain amino acids) with your water. Thus, definitely focus on restoring your carbs after a workout.
Maintaining a healthy diet is, obviously, important for your weight but it will definitely affect your performance before, during and after a training session and thus it’ll affect how your whole day develops. When your food choices are wise then you will feel energised, keen to confront anything life throws at you (absolutely crushing a tough workout). The number of carbs and protein play a key role in your performance and results.
Going back to the initial question: when is the best time to eat carbohydrate? The body handles carbs better when you’ve exercised. A post workout meal high in carbohydrates is ideal.
A rule to follow is this: A MEAL MUST INCLUDE CARBS ONLY IF YOU DESERVE THEM. If you’ve trained, you deserve your carbs. If you’ve trained even harder, then you deserve even more. However, if you haven’t exercise then you should have a low carb meal.
If you are training for regular health, keep a healthy balanced diet and consistent nutrition by including carbohydrates in MOST meals (follow the “must include carbs only if I deserve them” protocol) and protein and veggies in every meal.
On your regular day-to-day meals, go for higher-fibre, slow digesting carbohydrates: Starchy tubers, whole grains, fruit, high fibre version of pasta, bread… Some great ideas for post-workout meals are the ones that include carbs and protein. A good shake, some eggs with veggies, oatmeal are good sources of carbs with a good dose of protein. Remember, a post-workout meal should include, at least, 26% carbs or higher, protein, fibre and healthy fats.
Generally, if you’re looking to lose weight you have to implement another rule: avoid carbohydrates before going to bed. This will be the worst time to have them. As your body is a very smart machine, it will not throw away a source of energy. It will definitely store them. If all your glucose storage is full, then it will store it as fat.
TIPS to make a delicious Post workout meal:
Add protein powder to your morning oatmeal
Keep a good mix of veggies and fruits at hand
Toss away any refined carbs you have at home and replace them with a high fibre, whole wheat version. If you are gluten intolerant, look for a good source of gluten free option
Turnip and sweet potatoes are great post workouts choice. Toss them in with some turkey sausages for a great breakfast alternative
Fancy a shake? Make sure you add some peanut or almond butter, protein powder or cottage cheese, oats, flaxseed frozen berries, and veggies to turn it into a SUPER shake
Chickpeas are also a great carb alternative to have at hand for a post workout meal, cook them ahead of time and have them in a curry or as little pancakes.
If you find this all sounds overwhelming, it’s always a good idea to reach out to a certified nutrition coach or personal trainer who can help guide you to reach your goals more effectively. The future of fitness and nutrition is through online coaching. More and more people have less time to go to a gym or workout and need their time to be more efficient but still need someone to help them. At the end of the day, responsibility, discipline and consistency are what will get you results and a good coach will hold you accountable for all no matter if in person or through video.