What are the Best Workout Meals?
One of the main reasons people exercise is to change their body shape.
Some people want to lose weight. Some people want to build muscle. Others want to lose weight and then build muscle.
Whatever your goal, nutrition plays an important part in reaching your goal.
However, one of the areas where there is still a lot of confusion is in relation to food before and after exercise.
Just what is the best workout meal?
Think of Food as Information
Instead of getting caught in the diet mindset trap of counting calories burned against calories eaten, start thinking of food as information.
When we eat, we’re really delivering information to tell the body to:
- do this,
- don’t do this,
- release this hormone,
- don’t release that one,
- express this protein,
- don’t express that one.
We’re essentially sending instructions that kick off a chemical chain letter.
It’s really quite amazing. Each molecule of food contributes to a beautiful cascade of events, sending all kinds of signals throughout our bodies.
Make hormones! Trigger immune cells! Switch genes on and off! Tell the work crew to clean up and the builders to get on standby!
To burn fat, change your body shape and optimise your results, you need to prime your body with the right nutrition.
The best and the fastest results don’t happen to those who smash their workouts every time, but to those who consistently recover from each session. I repeat, the best and the fastest results don’t happen to those who smash their workouts every time, but to those who consistently recover from each session.
Food Helps Recovery
In addition to telling your body to prepare for the workout prior to your workout, you need to tell it to replenish and rehydrate after your workout. The right workout meals will not only ensure you get the best out of your workout while you’re exercising, but it will help you recover quicker after your session, leading to faster results.
Optimal results from your exercise sessions come from consistent recovery. This consistency comes from optimising your pre-workout and post-workout meals, and prioritising sleep.
Maximising your pre-workout and post-workout nutrition is the difference between being busy and being productive. It’s one of the reasons why so many people train for years, yet experience no results.
Having the right nutrition also helps you focus in your training session, which means you can train better, which leads to better and faster results.
What is the Best Workout Meal?
Now you know why it’s important to eat before and after your workout, you’re probably wondering what you should eat.
The best results come when you eat meals containing carbohydrate and protein, before and after your workout.
Eating carbs before exercise provides you with the energy you need to exercise. This energy is broken down into glucose which enters our muscles via the bloodstream and enables us to do our workout.
Carbohydrate is also required after a workout as this helps to replenish your body’s glycogen (energy) stores, so you’re ready for your next session. If you have depleted glycogen stores, you won’t have the energy to train at your best at your next session, or you’ll feel too tired to even try.
It’s important that the carbs we eat around our exercise session are quickly absorbed by the body. The best choices include unprocessed plant-based carbohydrates such as bananas and other fruits, rice, potato, sweet potato and oats. While processed carbohydrates such as bread, wraps and pasta are quickly absorbed, unprocessed carbs are better options.
Protein builds and repairs muscle tissue. During exercise our muscles are placed under stress. Results come when we can repair this muscle tissue.
Protein before and after your workout will help repair your muscles, aid muscle growth, increase your performance, increase your strength, and aid recovery. Eating protein will also reduce muscle soreness and reduce the levels of stress hormones. In addition, it helps with weight loss by staving off hunger, stabilising blood sugar levels, and helping with thermogenesis (burning calories through heat production).
The best proteins to have before and after exercise are those that:
- have the highest bioavailability (which means they are the quickest to be absorbed and digested by the body), and
- contain essential amino acids, which are required for muscle growth and repair. Our body can’t produce essential amino acids so we need to obtain them through our diet.
The best protein choices around your exercise window are whey protein, followed by whole eggs, fish, poultry and lean red meat, in that order.
Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, which is the watery part of the milk that separates during cheese production (remember the nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’?). Research studies have shown that it’s particularly effective at increasing muscle growth when consumed right before or after a workout. Building muscle should be your main priority when it comes to exercising for weight loss, because muscle mass influences 66% of your metabolism, and the better your metabolism, the more you burn fat without trying (even in your sleep!).
While nuts and legumes are sources of protein, they don’t contain the essential amino acids that our body requires before and after exercise. Remember, our body needs these essential amino acids to repair our muscles in order to recover consistently, and a quicker recovery means quicker results.
You may not be able to eat a large meal before training, but that’s fine, I know I can’t. Even eating as little as two boiled eggs and a banana, or consuming whey protein in water and a banana will improve the quality of your workout dramatically. This should be consumed anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes before your workout.
Essential Fatty Acid - Omega-3
After training, you should also aim to include a source of Omega-3 fatty acid, as this will ensure optimal post-workout nutrition. Good sources include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and fish oil supplements. However, if your post-workout meal includes fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel or tuna, you don’t need an additional source of Omega-3, as you already have it covered.
Different things work for different people, so try different sources of carbs, proteins and Omega-3 sources to find out what works best for you.
What About Fasted Cardio?
With many people engaging in intermittent fasting, there is some debate as to whether fasted exercise or fasted cardio provides better weight-loss results. This is largely due to a theory that gained great publicity in 1999 — that greater weight loss occurred when exercising in a fasted state. When I first started to seriously look at exercise and body composition changes, this is what I did because I blindly followed an ‘expert’ (an old uni lecturer once described an ‘expert’ to me: an ‘ex’ is a has-been, and a ‘spurt’ is a a drip under pressure!)
However, there have been several recent studies done in the area of fasted cardio to disprove this theory:
- One study showed that running for 60 minutes fasted, resulted in the same calorie deficit as someone who ate breakfast.
- Another study showed that calorie deficit and fat loss occurred with both fasted and non-fasted cardio.
- One study showed that fasted cardio led to both lower body weight and reduced body fat. However, these people were dehydrated and had reduced kidney function. The study showed that those who ate before exercise also had reduced body weight but their kidney function was normal.
- A further study showed that when it comes to resistance training, fasted people showed no change in body mass index, yet they were dehydrated and had reduced kidney function.
What are these studies telling us? There is no benefit to exercising in a fasted state, unless you want to dehydrate yourself and give yourself a kick in the kidneys!
In the long run, fasted exercise won’t get you the results you’re after. A starving body can only exercise so hard for so long. You’re far better off getting your body ready so you can consistently workout at around 80% capacity, instead of doing a workout at 100% one day, 50% another day, 30% another day, and then not training at all because you’re too tired.
Remember, the best and quickest results come to those who can consistently recover from their training sessions.
I don’t recommend training on an empty stomach as it makes it difficult to put in your best effort. It can also make you light-headed, dizzy and unfocussed and ncreases the likelihood of you injuring yourself.
Remember to Rest
A crucial piece of the puzzle that most people forget about is rest.
The diet and fitness industry has led us to believe that the more calories you burn, the more weight you’ll loose. This is what drives people to exercise every day, and sometimes a couple of times a day.
But in reality, you need to incorporate rest and recovery time to get the best results.
Sleep and rest is vital if you want to lose weight and change your body shape. Without it, you put your body under too much stress, which only leads to weight gain. Research also shows that those who fail to get enough sleep are more likely to gain weight.
So as well as considering your workout meal, you need to consider recovery time and sleep. Thinks of it this way: exercise creates a stimulus for the body to do something. How well the body responds to this stimulus depends on what information you give it (nutrition) and what time you give it to process that information (rest).
If you need help working out how to exercise and eat to lose weight long-term, without starving yourself or spending countless hours exercising, contact me now. I currently have a few spots available in my training programs and I’d love to work with people who are ready to do what it takes to achieve permanent weight loss.
To find out if you qualify, please click the link below.