Nutrition to maximise your workouts + healthy workout friendly meal ideas to nutritionally enhance your workouts and accelerate towards your gaols.

Nutrition to maximise your workout

As a qualified Nutritionist and Naturopath I hope the following tips help you to better understand the principles of what it means to nourish your body before and after your workouts.

If your goal is get more active and you want to know how to fuel your body with nutrition, understanding what is best to eat before and after your workouts can make a difference to your performance, energy and of course results. Getting the right balance of nutrition will ensure an energised workout as well as provide adequate nutrients for recovery and help you achieve your fitness and health goals.

Here are my simple tips to help you establish a good nutritional approach to your workouts that will fuel your energy levels, replenish your body and help you to establish what works best for your body and your favourite way to exercise.

As I always recommend, it is important that you tune in to your own body and respond to its feedback and what it needs (and when). These tips are a guideline and can be fine-tuned specific to your body by tailoring to your specific goals.

Pre and post-workout nutrition

In a nut shell, what you eat before your workout gives you energy to exercise and to maximise your performance and what you eat after your workout optimises your recovery in order to replenish, recover and repair.

Pre-workout

Your aim is to:

  • Fuel your energy requirements,
  • Boost performance,
  • Preserve muscle mass,
  • Hydrate and
  • Speed recovery.

Here’s how:

  • Make sure you are well hydrated with plenty of water or even coconut water (naturally rich in electrolytes).
  • Carbohydrates are beneficial when it comes to working out. They provide you with energy for your workout, reduce glycogen depletion as well as aid in recovering energy levels and reducing cortisol levels after exercise.
  • Consume good quality low GI carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables (e.g. sweet potato), wholegrains/ gluten free grains (e.g. buckwheat or quinoa), beans and legumes or low GI fruit.
  • Protein is helpful to preserve muscle mass.
  • Consume small amounts of protein (to prevent muscle breakdown).
  • Good sources include eggs, chicken, seafood, meat or a good quality protein powder.
  • The timing of your pre-workout meal does make a difference.
  • Food needs time to absorb to be used as fuel so allow enough time for digestion. A good guide is to eat approximately 2- 3 hours pre-workout if it is a slower digesting meal (such as a small Wholefoods meal that includes whole food chicken and sweet potato) or 30-60 mins prior if it is a light snack or an easily digested meal (such as a smoothie or a banana and handful of nuts).
  • If you are eating close to a workout opt for an easily digestible meal so your energy is available for working out instead of being focused on digesting food.

Some examples of pre-workout meals:

  • 1/2-1 banana and almond/natural peanut butter
  • Apple slices with nut butter and cinnamon
  • Omelette with vegetables
  • Oats/ quinoa flakes (a gluten free alternative to oats & rich in protein) with almond milk sprinkled with chopped nuts
  • 1 slice gluten free/ wholegrain (preservative free) toast with a poached egg and avocado
  • Sweet potato toast with fried egg on top
  • Hummus with veggie sticks
  • Brown rice or quinoa and tuna/chicken
  • Protein smoothie made with plant-based milk, your choice of protein (protein powder/LSA/nut butter/chia seeds), 1/2 banana or berries & cinnamon
  • 1-2 dates filled with almond/nut butter
  • Chia seed pudding with low GI fruit

Remembering your timing. If you’re having a larger size or complete meal make sure you allow 2-3 hours pre-workout. Snack sizes can be 1 hour prior.

Post-workout

Your aim is to:

  • Replenish and refuel your body for recovery, repair and to rebuild muscle,
  • Support and improve future performance and
  • Rehydrate.

Here’s how:

  • Your body needs protein to rebuild muscles and prevent muscle breakdown as well as carbohydrates to replenish lost glycogen stores (used from your muscle during training).
  • Aim to refuel your body with protein and good quality carbohydrates within 30-60 minutes after your workout.
  • Protein (which provide your body with amino acids) repair and rebuild your muscles and supports improved future performance.
  • Eating protein after exercise also prevents muscle protein breakdown and stimulates muscle protein synthesis (to either increase or maintain muscle tissue). This is important even if your goals isn’t to become really muscly!
  • Good sources include eggs, chicken, seafood, meat, legumes or a good quality protein powder.
  • Eating unrefined carbohydrates after a workout will help your body recover and assist glycogen replenishment.
  • Good quality sources of carbohydrate include sweet potato, quinoa, brown rice or legumes such as chickpeas.
  • Remember a post workout meal isn’t about earning calories to indulge after exercise. Switch your focus from calorie counting to nourishing your body and from weight loss to achieving a healthy weight that is natural for you.

Some examples of post-workout meals:

  • A balanced Wholefoods meal (such as chicken, sweet potato/brown rice and greens)
  • Egg and vegetable frittata (with as combo of eggs, roasted pumpkin or sweet potato and peas)
  • Quinoa Tuna Pie
  • Omelette with vegetables
  • Quinoa/brown rice and tuna/canned salmon homemade ‘sushi’
  • A protein smoothie with a good quality protein powder (I use a plant-based pea protein that’s easily digestible) and 1/2-1 banana
  • Coconut water and protein powder (make sure you choose a good quality one without added sweeteners or fillers.)
  • Chia pudding and berries
  • Grilled chicken or turkey served with a quinoa or brown rice salad
  • Grilled fish, baked sweet potato chips and green salad
  • Lean meat, steamed greens and mashed sweet potato
  • Boiled eggs, salad greens and hummus
  • Protein balls
  • Chickpea and quinoa salad

Signs to look out for

Tuning in to your body and listening to it’s needs can make a big difference to how you feel during and after your workout and even has an impact on how motivated you feel to exercise. How do you feel during your workout? How do you feel after your workout?

Some signs to look out for that you might need to look at your pre or post workout nutrition include:

  • Feeling achy and tired for the rest of your day post workout
  • Feeling mentally tired or experience foggy thinking
  • You experience symptoms of low blood sugar levels such as feeling shaky
  • You are losing muscle mass
  • You have low energy
  • You’re exhausted after a workout
  • You are moody after working out
  • You have sugar or carbohydrate (or food in general) cravings for the rest of the day
  • You feel unmotivated or lack energy to exercise

Final tips

Of course, a healthy approach should also consider your stress levels, sleep and level of health. As with your diet, your workouts should be matched to your current health status and health goals, keeping mind what is best for your unique body. If you need further help with understanding nutrition and how to create balanced meals we provide week by week guides and meal plans in our 6 Week Online Nutrition Program.

Don’t overcomplicate it. Unless you are a competitive athlete or training for a high level competition for example, keep it simple, listen to your body, don’t over-think it. Understand the basic principles and nourish your body with real food in accordance to it’s feedback.

Your individual nutrition needs depend on your many factors including the type of exercise you enjoy, your goals, your health status, your current weight etc. Adapt these principles to best work for your body and goals.

This article was written by nutritionist, naturopath Casey-Lee Lyons © Live Love Nourish™ 2020. All rights reserved.

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