Are you a recreational athlete who wants to improve your performance, add lean mass, and lose body fat? Look no further. This article will guide you on what to eat before, during, and after your training sessions.
WARNING: One Size Doesn’t Fit Everyone
Before we begin, this must be stated: the “one size fits all” approach does not fit all…ever. Taking that approach with nutrition is similar to going to a group fitness class: the plan only works for a select few people.
General Exercisers: If you are a general exerciser who trains less than 6 hours a week and are looking to improve your daily life function, this article is not for you. Your nutrition strategy should be more basic, focusing on food quality and quantity. As far as exercise nutrition, eating a well planned, healthy meal 1-2 hours before exercising and 1-2 hours after exercising will give you what you need without getting into any fancy dancy strategies.
Elite / Professional Athletes: This article is also not for the elite / professional athlete who trains 12 to 20+ hours a week. If this is you, your nutrition strategy should be much more specific than what this article volunteers. If you do not have a coach already, hire a certified nutrition coach that specializes in your sport.
Who is This Article For?
This article is for athletes who already consistently eat well planned, healthy meals and now need to time their nutrition strategies around their workouts to gain better results:
- High-level recreational, amateur athletic performance, military readiness, and / or physique competition
- Desire a leaner, athletic body that ranges from 8 to 10 percent body fat in males and 17 to 22 percent body fat in females
- Trains 6 to 12 hours a week
These athletes may include:
- Endurance athletes (i.e. marathon runners, Iron-men & women, etc.)
- Olympic Lifters and Power Lifters
- Tactical Athletes (Soldiers, firefighters, and Police Officers)
- Competitive intermediate athletes (high school soccer, recreational tennis, etc.)
If you are serious about your athletic performance and are not a professional athlete, this article is for you.
How Would I Know?
I have worked with many people with many different body types, goals, and genetic dispositions through my nutrition coaching program. Through this experience and continued research, I understand that a nutrition strategy should be as specific as the individual.
Workout Nutrition to Enhance Recovery and Fuel Performance
Workout nutrition has two main goals:
- Improve Recovery
- Improve Performance
Recovery is the first and foremost priority in any long term workout nutrition strategy. If you do not recover efficiently, you will not perform consistently well.
Recovery may include:
- Providing adequate hydration to your body,
- Ensuring a steady supply of fuel and nutrients to the working muscles to preserve lean tissue,
- Reducing muscles soreness and managing inflammation,
- Improving immune function,
- Blocking protein from breaking down, and
- Optimizing body composition for your sport (improving lean tissue while lowering fatty tissue).
General Guidelines for Workout Nutrition
Workout nutrition can be broken down into three nutrient timing categories:
- During workout
NOTE: There is not one “best” pre-workout meal, sports drink, or post-exercise snack.
Begin with these guidelines, and start experimenting. Observe, assess, and make adjustments accordingly.
Does Timing Really Matter?
Research suggests that you have a 1-2 hour window after training to refuel your body with protein and carbohydrates and recover sufficiently.
Consistently eating similar meals at similar times ensures you are feeding your body enough protein and carbohydrates within that 1-2 hour window both before and after any intense training session. This gives you energy to get through those sessions while also enabling your body to recover quicker. Simply put, you perform, look, and feel better when you time your nutrition with your training.
Start With Consistent High Quality Meals
Planning and preparing high quality meals consistently should always be the first skill you master in workout nutrition. High level recreational athletes must start with eating high quality meals at least 75% of the time before moving onto individualizing any nutrition strategy. The more specific you become, the harder the plan is to follow consistently, and in this game like most others, what you do consistently is the key to success.
Follow these guidelines first:
- Follow a normal eating schedule of high quality food that includes a good balance of lean protein, healthy fats, and slow digesting carbohydrates (i.e. fruits, vegetables, and whole grains).
- Eat carbohydrates in most meals.
- Eat a meal every 3 to 4 hours as needed or as appropriate (depending on your goal)
Once you are doing this consistently (again, at least 75% of the time), you can individualize your nutrition a bit more to your goals and needs.
Move On to Individualization: The Key to Optimum Nutrition
You ultimately need a nutrition strategy specific to you that optimizes your recovery and performance.
Many factors go into planning meals, and it is different for each individual. Factors that are considered when creating your nutrition strategy should include the following:
- How long is your physical activity (duration)?
- How intense is your physical activity (intensity)?
- How many times a day are you training?
- What are your goals?
- What is your body type / body composition (somatotype)?
- Do you have any food intolerances for food / liquids around training times?
Start with the following principles based on activity intensity and duration. Observe, assess, and adjust these principles to meet your body’s needs.
For moderate-intensity activity under 2 hours or high-intensity activity under 1 hour
Step 1: Eat a normal meal 1-2 hours before training
Step 2: Drink 16-32 ounces (0.5-1 liter) of water during activity
Step 3: Drink 16-32 ounces (0.5-1 liter) of water after activity
Step 4: Eat a normal meal 1-2 hours after training
Step 5: Drink 8-16 ounces (0.25-0.5 liter) of water with each meal
For athletes who / need a little extra recovery boost, looking to lose fat and maintain muscle, or for strength sport support (i.e. powerlifters):
- Add BCAAs during your training sessions
- Aim for 10-15 g of BCAAs every hour during training
For athletes who want to gain weight, have a high need for carbs / calories, or for specific sports performance (endurance or intermittent sport):
- Add protein + carbohydrates during training sessions / competition
- Aim for 30-45g carb + 15 g protein in 16-20 ounces (500-600mL) of water every hour during activity.
For moderate-intensity activity lasting longer than 2 hours or high-intensity activity lasting longer than 1 hour (and for those with multiple events in one day)
Step 1: Eat a normal meal 1-2 hours before activity
Step 2: Drink 8-16 ounces (0.25-0.5 liter) of water 30-60 minutes before activity
Step 3: Consume 30-45g carb + 15g protein + electrolytes (sodium and potassium) in 20 ounces (600mL) of water every hour during activity
Step 4: Consume 30-45g carb + 15g protein + electrolytes (sodium and potassium) in 20 ounces (600mL) of water after activity
Step 5: Eat a normal meal 1-2 hours after training
Step 6: Drink 8-16 ounces (0.25-0.5 liter) of water with each meal
Goals for Competition Day Nutrition
Just as you must practice skills consistently to optimize performance, you must consistently practice good training nutrition. Right before a competition is not the time to test drive nutrient timing; rather, on competition day, you have 3 goals:
Goal 1: Do what you have practiced in training.
The military has a saying: “Train for the Fight.” We go over every worst case scenario that could happen and train for that situation. Elite athletes do the same thing. They rehearse competition day over and over in their training sessions, so there are no surprises on training day.
Do trial runs well before the competition. Wake up at the same time. Eat the same food. Perform the same movements. Leave nothing to chance. Prepare. Rehearse. Anticipate. Keep it familiar, and control as many variables as you can.
Do not try anything new on competition day.
Goal 2: Supply your body with energy for the competition.
Your body needs a constant supply of blood glucose to prevent you from hitting a wall too early.
- Eat small, easily digested foods frequently throughout the day.
- Ensure that these meals contain proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
- Eat foods you know and trust.
Liquid nutrition may be your best friend to sip between events if you have several heats in the same day. They should contain protein, carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluid to replenish your body, digest quickly and easily, and recover between events.
Goal 3: Avoid foods that make you uncomfortable.
Competition day is usually a nerve wrecking, high adrenaline day. Consume foods that make you feel light and that do not aggravate your stomach. This is why practice is so important.
THIS MUST BE STATED: Do not consume alcohol until after your competition.
Added Goal: Don’t let post-competition partying cut into your performance, body composition, and recovery.
Celebrations will happen after your amazing performance. Keep your ultimate goals in mind as you party with your team.
The goals of timing your nutrition to your workouts are to recover faster and perform better. Like any plan, it must be followed consistently to be effective. Individualize the plan once you can follow it at least 75% of the time. Observe. Assess. Adjust. Reassess. Practice. Perform. Crush it!
There are many experts in the field of sports nutrition and fitness, all with different theories. When reading about these different theories and advice from fitness experts, don’t believe everything you read. It’s okay for you to be skeptical when it’s your body, performance, and health at risk. Don’t be afraid to ask the fitness professional where they acquired the information and why they believe it. I have gathered most of my nutrition information from years of personal experience, professional experience as a fitness coach, and continuing education from the highly respected company, Precision Nutrition.
Are you ready to take your nutrition to the next level?
The health and fitness world can be a confusing place, but it does not have to be. Let me help you make sense of all the information out there and build a plan for your success.
Contact me today to help you