Learning how to lift weights and write workout programs is one thing, but learning what to eat is totally another thing.

Here is a quick explanation of what to eat before and after a workout for those of you who are in a hurry:

Before a workout, you should eat a mixture of moderate to high glycemic carbohydrates and protein.  It is imperative to ingest some protein with your carbs.  This helps you in two ways.  First, it prevents a huge spike in insulin, which can cause a sugar crash during a workout.  Second, it helps to prevent muscle degradation during a workout, which will help you sustain a higher intensity longer during a workout.  

After a workout, you want to ingest high glycemic carbohydrates with protein.  The ideal post workout meal will be in a liquid form.  But it has to have a 4:1 Carbohydrate to Protein Ratio.  Protein by itself is completely useless.  The body needs to replenish it’s energy stores before muscle building and repair can take place.  

This is the quick definition and it will help you if you are just looking for a refresher.  But as we all know, there is always more information lurking beneath the surface.  This is especially true if you want to get the most out of your training.  

If that is the case, keep reading and let’s dive a little deeper.       

Your Body’s Metabolism During Exercise

During exercise your body releases a cascade of hormones to help mobilize and prepare various sources of energy to be broken down and released to power your workout.  

Think of this as your body’s logistics and supply chain management.  

Different types of hormones are released, including:

  • Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
  • Cortisol
  • Insulin Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1)
  • Epinephrine & Norepinephrine (Adrenaline)
  • Testosterone (Our Favorite Hormone)
  • And Many More

This is just a small list, but it illustrates my point.  All of these hormones help to break down glycogen and fat so it can be used by the muscles for fuel during a workout.  

But there is one very powerful hormone that inhibits and stops all of these other hormones.  Insulin.  

Yes, insulin is an extremely powerful hormone and it literally will put a halt to glycogen and fat mobilization.  This results in a very bad workout and possibly an even worse performance during an athletic competition.  

So how does insulin get released?  From high glycemic sugars.  

The Glycemic index

All sugars release insulin.  But not all at the same rate.  Some sugars raise insulin levels slowly over time and others spike insulin very quickly.  

The speed at which insulin levels rise and fall is called the glycemic index.  So foods that spike insulin levels quicker will have a higher rank on the glycemic index.  

Glycemic Index

It is best to avoid high glycemic foods until AFTER a workout.  But there are ways to slow down the release of insulin.  Fiber, fats and protein will help slow down insulin release.  

Once you start exercising and the “good” hormones get released, you can start ingesting some high glycemic foods DURING exercise.  Even though insulin levels reach nearly zero, this is all possible due to calcium being released during exercise.    

What To Eat Before Starting Your Workout

Before you exercise, you want to consume moderate to high glycemic carbohydrates with some protein.  

Pre-Workout Shake

Eating real, whole foods would be the best, and preferred, option.  But sometimes this isn’t always available and possible.  So supplementation is always a good option as well. 

Ideally before a workout, you would consume a liquid drink with:

  • Dextrose Sugar
  • BCAA’s
  • L-Leucine
  • ALA’s

And this would best be consumed about 20-30 minutes before your workout.  Dextrose sugar is very glycemic and would cause a huge insulin spike, but drinking it immediately before a workout will help prevent an insulin spike and sugar crash.  

Supplements can be expensive, so if you can’t afford the above option, focus on whole foods instead.  

A simple protein bar, apple and green tea 1-2 hours before a workout will also get the job done.  It will not be as powerful as the above option, but it will be more practical.  

What To Eat After A Workout

After a workout, you should aim for high glycemic sugars with fast absorbing protein.  There should be a 4:1 Carbohydrate to Protein Ratio.  

Ideally you would have a liquid meal with:

  • Maltodextrin or Dextrose Sugar
  • Whey Protein
  • BCAA’s
  • L-Glutamine
  • ALA’s
  • Cinnamon 

Drinking this immediately after a workout will dramatically speed up your recovery.  But again, it can be costly for you.  

Post-Workout Shake

So if you want a cheaper alternative, chocolate milk will do the trick.  It will not be as effective as the above mixture, but it is still a great post workout meal that I myself and many other athletes have used throughout the years. 

To learn more about this be sure to check out my article on post workout nutrition.   

Be sure to ingest a post workout meal of some kind at least 45 minutes after a workout.  If you wait any longer, you will delay your recovery by 45 percent.  I highly recommend reading the works of Dr. John Ivy to investigate this further.  

Hydration Matters

Proper Hydration

This should be a no brainer, but you need to stay hydrated if you want to get the most out of your workouts.  

Most lifters are dehydrated during their workouts.  I have already written articles describing the importance of hydration, so I won’t get into too much detail here.  

To calculate how much water you should be drinking per day, take your body weight in lbs and multiply it by 0.75.  Whatever number you get is what you should be drinking in ounces of water per day.  

To make this even more effective, add just a pinch of salt, or hydration tablets, to your water.  This will help keep you hydrated and prevent excess electrolyte loss from sweat.  

It may not sound like a big deal, but it makes a huge difference.  

Nutrition Fuels A Speedy Recovery

There are three main factors that lead to a speedy and effective recovery.

The first is sleep, the second is nutrition and the third is hydration.  We have covered two in this article and just how effective they are, but be sure to give my sleep article a quick read through for a refresher.  

These are the only three factors that have been validated by research.  Everything else is merely speculation, myths or marketing.  

Even if it is not sexy, you need to stick with what works.  

Conclusion 

Now you have a basic understanding of what you need to eat both before and after a workout.  It is not anything magical or special.  It is just what works.  

You can ask 20 different people what they eat both before and after a workout and you will get 20 different answers.  None of these people are wrong, you were just asking the wrong question.  

Never take someone’s arrogance as “evidence” for knowing what works and what doesn’t.  Always take the opinion of reason and logic, whether you want to hear it or not.

With that said, start writing your diet plan and be sure to re-read the article if you got stuck on anything.  

If you liked this article, please be sure to share it with someone who can use this information.  Not only would it make my day, it would make my whole month :).  Help me spread Barbell Scholar’s message of common sense training so we can make REAL training common sense again!

Cheers,

-Anthony   


Tony G
Tony G

Anthony is a fan of all things gym related. Growing up very overweight and out of shape, Anthony whipped himself into shape and stunned his entire community becoming a "fitness guru". Tony then set his sights on strength sports (Weightlifting/Powerlifting/Strongman) and learned all about body mechanics, mobility work and injury prevention. Tony found his true love in the strength sports, particularly Olympic Weightlifting. He earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from Fitchburg State University in Exercise and Sports Science. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the NSCA.

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