An effective training program doesn’t confine itself to the gym. In fact, what you do before you walk through the doors and after you leave are as important as what you do while you’re here. This is especially true when it comes to what you eat. If you don’t seem to be getting the results you’re looking for from your training sessions, nutrition could be the problem. In order to make your workouts as effective as possible, focus on smart pre and post-workout nutrition.

Before a training session, it’s important to give your body fuel to perform well and build muscle. Studies have shown that eating before strenuous exercise (as opposed to exercising in a fasted state) improves performance. Ideally, your pre-workout fuel should be a carbohydrate-rich meal with a little (roughly one ounce) protein. This tops off glycogen stores to help sustain energy, build lean body mass, and reduce muscle soreness after exercise. As far as timing goes, it is best to eat a nutritious meal a few hours before working out, then a healthy snack right beforehand.

After a strenuous training session, proper nutrition is essential to your recovery. It replenishes muscle and liver glycogen stores, enhances the building of lean body mass, and aids muscle repair. Essentially, everything that you might want from your workout will happen more effectively with good post-workout nutrition.

For your post-workout meal or snack, consume food and/or beverages that contain a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. You should consume your post-workout meal immediately after you train. Our muscles are depleted after exercise and require an abundance of protein and carbohydrates. Additionally, they are biochemically “primed” for nutrient uptake. This is often referred to as the “magic recovery window.” Research has shown that consuming a post-exercise meal immediately after working out is superior to consuming one as little as an hour later. In turn, consuming a meal 1 hour later is superior to consuming one 3 hours later (Tipton et al 2001, Levenhagen et al 2001). If you wait too long, glycogen replenishment and protein repair will be compromised.

As soon as possible after your workout, consider consuming one of the following snacks:

  • Yogurt
  • Fruit and a piece of cheese or ¼ cup nuts
  • Sports bar w/protein
  • Graham crackers with peanut butter

As an active individual, developing nutrition strategies that optimize your fitness goals and overall health can be a balancing act. By taking a close look at your routine and potentially incorporating some of the aforementioned pre- and post-workout ideas, you will be well on your way to successfully achieving your goals!

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