Food is important.
Not only does it provide us enjoyment and nourishment, but it is responsible for fueling the strong, powerful bodies that we put through such vigorous workouts.
When it comes to putting things into our bodies, it’s absolutely essential to have some sort of game plan. That is, to have a personal nutritional management structure to go by, in place of random consumption. Three critical areas to consider and prioritize are:
1) what you eat (choosing high quality foods)
2) how much you eat (don’t starve yourself and don’t stuff yourself)
3) when you eat (nutrient timing)
We will Zero in on the third mention for this post, nutrient timing, specifically peri (pre and post) workout meals. Chances are, if you’re putting the structure and commitment into your training with a specific and desired outcome, it would also serve your efforts well to be prepared and thoughtful in your nutrition relative to those goals.
Nutrition is a big subject area with a number of moving parts and perspectives. For the sake of this post, I will share based on what’s been my experience and worked for me.
Over the past several years, I have gained most of my nutrition experience from my long-time coach, Carter Schoffer of Body Transformation Inc. and Precision Nutrition. In that time, I’ve been taught that the foundation of all my meals should include both lean protein and vegetables. The peri-workout meals are where we tend to manipulate more variables including healthy fat sources, fruit and the most commonly manipulated variable of course, carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can get a bad rep, yet when we better understand where to place them and how to manage them we can certainly have our carbs and eat them too.
Our post workout-feeding window is typically within three hours post training. If you’re going to eat starchy or sugary carbs, the best time is typically peri-workout. How we structure our peri workout nutrition is still specific to the context of (1) the physiology of the person (2) your workout and (3) your training goals.
1a) Those who may get along with post-workout carbs best are those who tend to be built lean naturally and are more carb tolerant. This is also true if your goals fall more along the lines of performance, health, lean mass, taste/pleasure-centric.
1b) Those who tend to store more body fat are less-tolerant to carbs and desire goals that may not get along well with carbs–post-workout or otherwise (ie: strict fat loss). These individuals may not have as much dietary freedom when it comes to the inclusion of carbohydrates.
(2) The type of your workout, intensity and hormonal response could also influence the level of deservedness for carbs. For example:
- Sport = carbs
- Resistance Training = carbs
- Interval work = maybe carbs
- Low intensity = prob not carbs, unless training for a sport.
(3) Most importantly, your training goals will ultimately influence the strategy of your peri workout meals:
- Performance goals –Fuel needed both before and after training
- Overall health – Contributing to our body’s recovery from the workout
- Fat loss – Strategies to alter our body composition via macronutrient manipulations and calorie intake relative to energy expenditure
- Muscle gains – macronutrient manipulations and calorie intake to alter our body composition (likely needing a surplus of calories via healthy food choices)
In addition to timing carbs, it can be advantageous to time meal size – getting more food in the hours post-workout when your body needs it rather than other times of the day. That said, workout time changes physiology and regardless of the time you workout, make sure you DO eat post-workout, even if you train late in the day / evening despite some of the approaches suggesting “don’t eat carbs (or food) at night”.
If you want to take it a bit further than your peri workout meals, timing amino acids like BCAAs, glutamine, creatine, beta alanine, etc. during a workout is thought to aid with recovery. Girls Gone Strong likes Biotrust Nutrition products as they are formulated with no artificial ingredients.
An example of a typical meal plan I would follow from Carter (on a Resistance Training day) looked similar to the following:
- 2-3 Small Meals: Protein + veg + fat meals, spaced evenly
- Train: workout drink of aminos timed around and during my training
- 1 big meal of protein + veg + starchy and/or sugary carbs (within an hour post training)
- 1 moderate meal of protein + veg + starchy carbs (within 3-4 hours post training)
- 1 small-moderate meal of protein + veg + maybe a fat
Meal size reference: Small = 80% fullness, Moderate = 90% fullness, Large = 100% fullness
Again, one might manipulate the above plan for different needs. For example, with performance, start by adding a carb to your pre-workout meal as well. If aggressive fat loss is the aim, first drop out the carb from the second post workout meal. Follow by dropping out the carb source from the immediate post workout meal and so on.
I’d like to give some special love to my coach, Carter Schoffer of Body Transformation Inc. (www.bodytransformation.com) and Precision Nutrition Inc. (www.precisionnutrition.com) for helping me put together both this piece and my body.
Ultimately what matters most is that you always feed your body in a way that serves your actions and your goals. A good nutrition plan supports a good training plan and vice versa. We would love to hear your favorite post workout meal! Let us know in the comments below.