Whether your goal in the gym is to get stronger or build muscle, it’s important to focus on your nutrition as much as your training. While this article is not intended to serve as medical advice, here are some thoughts on what to eat and when to get the most out of your workout.
What to eat before your workout and when to eat
Consuming protein is beneficial for weightlifting and most other exercise. The activity does damage to the muscle fibers, so your body needs protein to repair the damage and grow the muscle. Most dietitians recommend that active people consume around one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Try to get 20 to 30 grams of protein in a meal before your workout.
Many foods are excellent sources of protein. Fish, chicken, beef and whey protein in a shake can all work well.
Carbohydrates are also important, as your body will need fuel, especially for longer amounts of exercise. Simple carbohydrates offer an immediate burst of energy, but they can wear off quickly. Depending on when you eat, you might actually feel more drained during the workout. If you choose to add a simple carbohydrate, a piece of fruit, like a banana, could work well.
Complex carbohydrates are probably better sources of energy for your exercise. These foods are digested more slowly, but they can give you more sustained energy. Consider foods like whole grains and green vegetables.
As far as timing, experts often suggest this type of pre-workout meal two to three hours before your exercise.
What to eat after your workout and when to eat
As we discussed above, exercise burns glycogen, a fuel source, and damages muscle. Our post-workout meal or snack can reverse these changes. A meal rich in protein for muscle and carbohydrates to restore glycogen can be helpful.
Again, proteins like milk and eggs, and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and whole grains or fruits for carbohydrates are a good start. Many people recommend chocolate milk for its protein and carbs. Many sports recovery drinks on the market now have added protein.
When to eat after a workout is debatable. Some experts believe that you need to consume your protein with or without some carbs as soon as possible after a workout to build muscle, while others say it could be better for the body to wait 60 to 90 minutes before you eat.
And don’t forget to drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout and throughout your day.
If you have specific questions about what diet is right for you and how your diet can affect your training and performance, consider consulting with a dietitian who works with athletes.
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