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Just as important as what you eat is when you eat - the timing of the intake of key nutrients helps to convert your hard effort in the gym or on the field into a fitter and stronger you.
For instance, a protein-rich mini-meal before a strength training session will provide the building blocks for protein synthesis, while carbohydrate consumed at this time can provide fuel for the session.
After training, the intake of protein and carbohydrates will enhance the recovery processes of refueling, repair and adaptation. However, you do need to train yourself into effectively timing your nutrient intake and plan ahead for when good food is hard to find.
Resistance exercise leads to overall muscle tissue breakdown. Just after a strength session, the body is actively seeking protein to re-build muscles. A pre-exercise protein snack will mean that protein will already be digested and available to the body’s cells at the end of the session. Post-exercise, consume some more protein, plus carbohydrates to continue the repair and rebuild process.
Endurance training depletes the body’s stores of glycogen (stored carbohydrate). In the first 30 min after exercise the body is starving for carbohydrates and is biochemically more active in storing available carbohydrate. During this post-exercise window, it’s important to give the body the carbohydrates it craves.
Allow 1-2 hours between finishing a meal and a beginning a training session. Personally, I like a 2 hour window, but you can get away with shorter periods if the food is more easily digestible (eg, a low-fat & liquid). The aim is to have the stomach empty of food when you start training or competing. Having food in the stomach draws in blood to aid digestion. During exercise that means less blood for the muscles and lower potential performance.
Some athletes may be wary of eating carbohydrates in the hour before exercise for fear of this leading to a rapid drop in blood sugar at the start of exercise, which could impair performance. While this was once a prevalent theory, more recent research and reviews have shown no negatives for performance. However, every athlete should experiment with the timing of carbohydrate intake pre-exercise to determine how it affects them.
Choose a quick and easy snack before early morning workouts. A liquid meal supplement, such as PowerBar ProteinPlus Powder Drink, is a convenient and readily digested source of protein and carbohydrate. Where there is no time, or you are unable to tolerate a meal or snack before a hard morning session, fuel the workout by drinking a sports drink during the session.
The body starts to replace its depleted energy stores and repair microscopic damage to muscle fiber straight away after exercise. Therefore, provision of depleted nutrients post-exercise will accelerate recovery.
Scientists studying the role of carbohydrate in exercise say that eating carbohydrates starting from 15 to 30 minutes after exercise, followed by additional carbohydrate feedings, will optimize muscle glycogen replacement.
A delay of a few hours in the ingestion of carbohydrates post-exercise will slow the rate at which the body stores glycogen. For the casual athlete, pack some fruit, fruit juice, or a fluid replacement beverage for a post-workout snack. Then, consume a mixed high carbohydrate and protein meal (such as rice with grilled chicken and vegetables) shortly thereafter.
For the heavily training endurance athlete, consume a post-exercise meal with a good source of protein and 100 grams of carbohydrate, followed by an additional carbohydrate feeding about two hours later.
I’d always have a packet of lollies/candies in the glove box of my car to eat on the way home after training. The high Glyemic Index of these sugary sweets gets the energy in fast.
Effective eating after a strength training session has slightly different needs - kick-start the recovery processes by consuming 10–20g of protein and 1gm of carbohydrate per kilogram body mass. If it is not convenient to have a meal soon after the session, start with a snack that can provide these nutrients, and resume normal meal patterns later.
After a gym session, I’d buy a little packet of beef jerky and a flavoured milk drink and consume them on the way home. The jerky is very high in protein while the milk provides fluid, carbohydrates and protein.
For more on this topic you might be interested in the book Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition . I haven’t read it yet, but am keen to as it rates 4.5 stars on Amazon.
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