To build muscle optimally you need to get both your training and your diet right. And although the most important aspect of your diet is your total daily calorie, protein, carbohydrate and fat intake, there are other factors to consider too. Chief amongst these is your pre and post workout meals.
Pre and post workout nutrition has been over-complicated by many and also made out to be far more important than it actually is. But although it’s not as crucial as some may make out, it is still a factor, and getting it right will definitely improve the results you are getting from your training.
So in this article I’ll outline the best foods to eat before training and after training, and I’ll also suggest a couple of supplements that could be useful too.
The Best Pre Workout Meal
The purpose of your pre workout meal is to help fuel your workout, reduce muscle protein breakdown during your workout and maximize your performance. Better performance in your training will give you a stronger muscle building stimulus, which will lead to much improved results.
In order to achieve this you need to eat a good amount of protein and some carbohydrate about 1.5 – 2 hours before training.
The exact amounts required will vary from person to person of course, but as a rough guide about 50g of protein and 30 – 50g of carbohydrate will be plenty for most people. Protein can come from meat, fish or eggs and your carbohydrates should ideally be from a lower glycemic source such as brown rice, oatmeal, sweet potato or whole grain pasta. A little fat is OK too – but not too much.
Then about an hour before training I like to have one or two cups of coffee, as this gives an extra energy boost and helps improve performance even further.
The only exception to the above is if you train early in the morning, in which case it’s best to simply have a whey protein shake and some fruit about 30 minutes before your workout.
The Best Post Workout Meal
The purpose of your post workout meal is to stop the muscle tissue breakdown caused by your workout and to start the rebuilding and recovery process, as well as to begin replacing your glycogen stores.
To achieve this you need a good amount of both protein and carbohydrate, ideally soon after your workout has finished. The reason it should be consumed soon after finishing your workout is that at this time your body is primed and ready to accept and utilize nutrients more than at any other time.
So aim to eat your main meal, consisting of at least 50g of protein and 50 – 100g of carbohydrates within an hour (but 30 minutes would be even better) of finishing your workout. Again your protein can come from meat, fish or eggs and your carbohydrates can be from a higher glycemic source (such as white rice or white potatoes) if you wish. And once again the fat content should not be too high.
Or alternatively, if you can’t eat a main meal that soon after you finish training, just have a whey protein shake and a piece of fruit (a large ripe banana would be ideal) instead, and then have your main meal anything from one to three hours later.
What About Supplements?
I’ve already mentioned whey protein, although this is really more of a food than a supplement. And although it’s not essential (especially if you can eat your main meal soon after training) it is very useful and convenient.
Whey protein is a top quality source of protein; it has an excellent amino acid profile, is high in branch-chain amino acids and is very easy to digest. So it’s well worth using, and my preferred brand is Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard.
Apart from that there are two other supplements that deserve a mention.
The first is beta alanine, which is best taken pre workout on training days. Once again this is not essential, but it does help delay fatigue during higher rep sets, so can be very useful if your main focus is on increasing muscle size. However if most of your training tends to be in the lower rep ranges, because you are mostly interested in increasing strength, you can give this one a miss.
And then there is creatine monohydrate which is useful for all types of training and at all rep ranges. This is best taken post workout on training days.
Both of these supplements can be taken at any time of day on your off days.
As for all the commercial pre and post workout formulas, you can use these if you wish but they are unlikely to make much difference. So you’d be better off saving your money to spend on something else.
And that’s really all you need to know about the best foods to eat in your pre and post workout meals. There’s no need to make it any more complicated than this. Just follow the guidelines given here and you will be giving your body everything it needs to maximize performance, recovery and growth.