If you’re reading this article, chances are you already know how important nutrition is in achieving your fitness goals. Fitness and muscle building is all about working on breaking down muscle tissues and then feeding them towards a stronger recovery. While everything you eat throughout the day is important for seeing results, there are some meals which are important than others when it comes to muscle building. These meals are pre, intra and post workout, which is also known as the anabolic window.
Most people believe that what they eat immediately after working out matters the most when it comes to muscle building. While this is partially true, what you eat before can be as important. In this article, we will discuss foods that need to be added in your pre, intra and post workout meals and the scientific reasons why they’ll help you get the most out of your fitness regime.
Pre-workout meal is a combination of foods that you consume before workout. The main aim of this meal is to provide energy throughout the weight training activity. Compromising on your pre-workout meal could cause low energy levels and tiredness while in the gym, hence a pre-workout meal should contain everything that is needed to complete a workout without getting tired in between. Consume this meal 30 to 45 minutes before the workout so that enough time is given to the body to digest and blood flow get diverted to muscles while in the gym rather that the digestion process.
Note: Not everyone believes in the “pre-workout meal,” especially if you’re exercising first thing in the morning. Read more about fasted exercise and its benefits (and drawbacks).
The purpose of pre-workout carbohydrate is to increase glucose storage as muscle glycogen and maintain blood glucose levels. Hence at this time we need slow digesting carbohydrates so that there is a slow glucose release in the bloodstream.
The best choice here would be low glycemic slow digestive foods. Here are some of the examples:
- Whole Wheat Breads
- Sweet Potatoes
- Fruits like apple and guava
It is important to note here that you should not be consuming high fibre foods before workout. Foods high in fibre take too long to digest and can make the person too full while working out, making the situation worse. Everything that we do requires blood flow. Hence while working out, more blood flow should be provided to muscles rather than digestive system.
Also, fast digestive and low glycemic index carbohydrates provide instant energy but are not enough to provide for a complete workout. Hence foods like rice, potatoes, pasta, bananas and mangoes should be avoided before a workout.
Most people do not realize that protein is as important in your pre-workout meal as it is in your post-workout meal. During heavy and intense training, protein can be used up for rapid supply for energy. If protein is not consumed in the pre-workout meal, the body will have to breakdown protein from muscle mass which can worsen the case. Hence it is always important to provide amino acids like BCAAs to the body before workout.
What are BCAAs, you ask? BCAAs are important amino acids that are needed by the body for recovery and other important functions. They prevent muscle breakdown and are used up by body as source of energy.Since they are not produced by the body, a person who works out is required to eat a meal with high quality BCAAs.
The most common sources of BCAAs are chicken, meat, fish and dairy products.
Here are some of the foods that you can consume before workout:
- Milk (skim, 2% or whole, your choice)
- Whey protein
- Combination of egg whites and egg yolks due to high BCAAs
It is important to note that foods like chicken and fish are great sources of BCAAs, but take long time to digest.
Intra-Workout ‘Meal’ (BCAA Supplements)
The intra-workout meal is not as important as your pre and post workout meals. During workout, your body tends to use protein for energy, most commonly on Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine (also known as BCAAs). If these amino acids are not provided to the body before or during the workout, the body will have to break it down from muscle mass, which means a possible loss of muscle.
If you are on a low-carbohydrate diet, or are not in a position to consume BCAA-rich food before a workout, then you need to consume it while working out. Since eating whole food while working out will drive blood flow towards digestion, it is recommended to consume it in a supplement form. Here comes the need of BCAAs. supplements.
BCAAs supplement are to be taken in water and can be consumed while working out which will provide you instant amino acids and prevent muscle breakdown. There are a number of different BCAA supplements you can take if you choose to go down this route, so consult your personal trainer or nutritionist to find out which one is best for you.
Note: Many people are seen consuming glucose while working out, which is a no no, as this can increase the load on digestive system. Stick to water, and only consume electrolyte drinks if you’re doing a long and arduous cardio workout.
This is one of the most important meals of your day. After the intense workout, your body craves nutrients. This is the best time to provide quality nutrients to your body for maximum results.
During a workout muscle glycogen stores are used up for energy and muscles are depleted. You also create micro tears in your muscles, which need to be repaired. The post workout meal should be consumed within 30 minutes after completing the workout and should contain the following macros:
The main focus of post-workout carbohydrates is to replenish or restore the muscle glycogen stores. Hence at this point of time, we need an instant rush of insulin spike. Fast absorbed carbohydrates are best for this purpose. Immediate intake of fast absorbing carbohydrates would create a spike in insulin levels pushing glucose into the muscles and helping in protein synthesis. Thus the best carbohydrates that can be consumed after the workout is glucose (simplest form of sugar, easy and fast digesting, such as bananas (great sources of glucose and potassium) and other fruit juices.
It is one of the most important nutrients required by the body after a workout. While working out, our body uses BCAAs as a source of energy and also a muscle breakdown is caused. The purpose of consuming post workout protein is to supply amino acids to the muscle and aid in muscle repair. Protein synthesis occurs at its highest rate after weight training. Hence you should be careful about the food choices after your workout.
After an intense workout session our body needs fast digestion protein to give an instant rush of amino acids. The best types of protein to be consumed after workout are:
- Whey protein: It is the highest quality protein available with excellent source of BCAAs.
- Eggs are second best sources of protein
- Chicken and fish are great sources of protein but are slow to digest.
Protein-rich foods such as milk and tofu contain casein, which they are slow-digesting foods, which is why they are not recommended for the muscle-repair process.