One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “What should I eat before and after a workout?” Soon to follow would be, “What is best to eat for breakfast?”. In this article, I intend to answer these questions for you, giving you an understanding of what to eat and when in relation to what you have done and what you’re about to do.
In a consultation with a new client the first discussion we have regarding nutrition involves a daily lifestyle check. This is where I learn what they do in their daily lifestyle. Before I can advise someone on what to eat I need to have a detailed understanding on their daily activities. Meaning their activity levels entirely determine what nutrients they should be consuming. In low states of activity your body prefers to utilise fat as a fuel source. This means you should supply your body with fat before long periods of low activity. Alternatively, during states of high activity your body prefers to utilise carbohydrate for energy. Hence why you should eat carbohydrate before exercise.
Looking through my client history data, I took a percentage of the most commonly advised nutrient for breakfast and lunch. Curious to see if there’s a general trend occurring. It turns out there is. The most commonly advised nutrient for breakfast and lunch is fat. My observation produced staggering results with 91% of clients being advised to reduce carbohydrate intake and increase fat intake for breakfast and lunch. For example, changing a bowl of porridge for breakfast to poached eggs on a bed of spinach. The remaining 9% where advised to eat meals high in carbohydrate to cater for their states of high activity. For example, some clients would cycle to work or have labour intensive jobs. This leaves me to say, the majority of clients required meals containing high amounts of fat because their general day to day activities are sedentary. Meaning there isn’t much physical activity happening at all with most people catching a train or driving to work and sitting at a desk until their commute home. Considering the results were so one-sided. I decided to take another observation. I randomly selected 50 friends from Facebook and asked them about their routine from Monday to Friday. This enabled me to determine what their breakfast and lunch should consist of. The results were similar to my previous observation. 12% suited a breakfast containing large amounts of carbohydrate and 88% suited a breakfast containing large amounts of fat.
From a collective sample size of over 100 people, my observations suggest that a large percentage of the English population have sedentary occupations. Typically speaking, from Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm there isn’t much physical activity occurring at all. This means items of food containing large amounts of healthy fat should be first and foremost on the shopping list to cater for this sedentary lifestyle that is so common. And for some people it is. Have you ever found yourself racing against a stranger in the supermarket to find the perfectly ripe avocado for lunch? If you haven’t, I suggest you head on down to the avocado display to join the race. As not only is the race a thrilling experience for your casual trip down to the supermarket. Avocados are dense in healthy fat, sure to fuel your sedentary day perfectly.
Below are meal examples high in fat which perfectly suit long periods of low activity (long periods of time being 2-6 hours and low activity consisting of things like walking, conference calls, meetings, desk work, watching TV, food shopping, driving, reading, meditating). Notice that each meal has an absence or a very little amount carbohydrate. There is a reason for this. I will go into detail about this when I post an article on the Ketogenic nutritional lifestyle. But to get straight to the point. Minimising your carbohydrate intake in these meals will ensure your metabolic state stays in the process that utilities fat as a major fuel source. Doing this consistently will enrich your day with large amounts of sustainable energy. Eliminating the peaks and troughs a carbohydrate rich diet normally brings about. You are also likely to witness your fat percentage drop as you’re manipulating your metabolic processes to ‘eat’ into your fat stores. But remember, consistency is key.
Honey roasted kale with salmon seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika. Perfect before a night out at the Cinema.
Salmon, feta cheese, avocado, peppers, beetroot, edamame beans, and cucumber. Almost tasting the rainbow with vegetables. I would eat a meal like this before spending a few hours on the computer.
On the right side of the picture you can see I’ve made extra for tomorrows lunch. 😉
Poached egg on a bed of spinach with a tomato. A brilliant way to start a sedentary day.
Looking at the opposite end of the spectrum. During high states of activity your body prefers to utilize glycogen. Or more commonly known as carbohydrate. In basic terms, there are two types of carbohydrate. Starch and Sugar. The differences between the two consist of one taking much longer to digest yet offering energy for longer periods of time. With the other type taking a matter of minutes to digest and enter your blood stream; affecting your blood glucose levels dramatically which can lead to unstable energy levels. These differentiation’s are entirely because of their differences in structure.
It is Starch that takes the longest time to digest. Requiring 1-2 hours to digest and store compared with sugar which can take only a matter of minutes. It is Starch that offers vast amounts of energy for long periods of time and therefore is what you should be eating for your pre-workout meal. Examples of starchy foods are potatoes, wholemeal rice/pasta, oats, quinoa, sweat potato and beans. Considering it takes a while to digest. Preparation is key to get this meal in at the right time. My clients would normally prepare a starchy meal to eat on their commute back home if they were going to the gym straight after work. If you fail to prepare a meal another alternative is available. You could eat two pieces of fruit 20-30 minutes before a workout accompanied with drinking a sports drink during exercise, for example Lucozade Sport or Power Aid. This alternative however is much better than skipping a pre-workout meal, it’s not nearly as good as eating a starchy meal 1-2 hours before exercise. Purely because this alternative will not provide energy for long periods of time and does not provide sustainable amounts of energy with your blood glucose levels fluctuating as you eat and drink sugary foods.
On a perfect day, I like to have a starchy meal with vegetables two hours before exercise coupled with a piece of fruit 20 minutes before. This ensures I have adequate amounts of glycogen stored in my liver and muscle tissue ready to fuel exercise. And equally as important. This also ensures I have adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals in my system from consuming the fruit and vegetables. Vitamins and minerals play a vital role in optimising bodily functions. I will go into greater detail about this in another article. The importance of vitamins and minerals must not be understated so I will dedicate an entire article to the topic.
Before showing you some pre-workout meal examples. I want to give you a few tips on aiding digestion. As I have mentioned digestion many times in this article you may have guessed its rather important. A way to aid digestion is to consume plenty of water with your pre-workout meal. Mostly because carbohydrates can only be stored in the presence of water. For every gram of carbohydrate you consume, 3 grams of water is required to store it. Furthermore, drinking water with the consumption of sugary food will dilute the sugar content of what you have consumed. Affecting your sugar levels less dramatically which will help to stabilise energy levels. It is also best to be still for a while during and after your meal. This allows your body to divert blood to your intestines rather than your muscle tissue. This will aid the transportation of nutrients from your intestines to wherever it needs to go in the body. Doing the things I have stated will aid the speed of digestion.
Below are examples of my favourite pre-workout meals.
Honey Roasted Sweet Potato with Green Beans and Broccoli. (High in starch) Allow 2 hours to digest. Drink plenty of water with this.
Mango Madness Oat Bar. (High in starch and sugar)
This homemade master piece is incredibly convenient as well as immensely tasty. Bake enough and you’ll have a weeks’ worth of pre-workout meals prepared. The recipe is a secret for now, but take your standard flapjack recipe, double the oats, add an astronomical amount of dried mango and you wont be far off.
Yogurt and Granola with Strawberries and Raspberries. (High in sugar, low in Starch)
This meal Is precisely what you need to fuel a morning workout; as it wont take long to digest. Approximately 30-40 minutes.
There isn’t much confusion regarding what you should eat after a workout. It’s simple. As you’ve had a hard workout as always; you have utilized all the glycogen (carbohydrate) stores in your body. This means a portion of your post workout meal needs to contain starch to replenish these empty stores. On top of that, a portion of your post workout meal needs to contain protein as it is needed for the recovery and growth of muscle tissue. Furthermore, vegetables are required as they carry the all-important vitamins and minerals which keep our bodies ticking over efficiently. As well as providing fibre to aid digestion. And finally, fat is required to enable the absorption of fat soluble vitamins contained within the vegetables.
It is best to eat your post workout meal within an hour after exercise. Eating within this time frame will optimise absorption.
A great example of a post workout meal is the classic English Sunday Roast. Notice how I have set aside extra potatoes and vegetables for tomorrows pre-workout meal. I drizzle the gravy over the top of the potatoes and microwave for a minute – delicious.
From reading the above, I hope you now understand what to eat and when in relation to your activity levels. Knowing how to do so carries major health benefits so it’s worth applying this knowledge to your lifestyle as soon as possible. Supplying your body with the correct nutrients will enrich your day with a consistent level of energy, eliminating peaks and troughs in energy levels and therefore improving concentration and productivity. Furthermore, applying the correct nutrition to a sedentary lifestyle will help to reduce your fat percentage. Which will of course reduce weight and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, resulting in a healthier heart, reducing the risk of developing diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Reading this article may have stimulated some questions in your mind associated with healthy and unhealthy fats. My next article on nutrition will help you to integrate healthy sources of fat into your lifestyle, along with identifying and eliminating the unhealthy ones.