One of the main reasons people exercise is to change their body shape.
Some people want to lose weight. Some people want to build muscle. Others want to lose weight and then build muscle.
Whatever your goal, nutrition plays an important part in reaching your goal.
However, one of the areas where there is still a lot of confusion is in relation to food around exercise.
Just what is the best workout meal?
Think of food as fuel
Instead of getting caught in the diet mindset trap of counting calories burned against calories eaten, start thinking of food as fuel.
Just like a car needs fuel before it can perform so does your body. You can’t drive a car with an empty fuel tank, yet many people think they can exercise effectively without fueling the body first.
To burn fat, change your body shape and optimise your results, you need to prime your body with the right nutrition.
The best and the fastest results don’t happen to those who smash their workouts every time, but to those who consistently recover from each session.
Food helps recovery
In addition to fueling your body prior to your workout, you need to refuel and rehydrate after your workout. The right workout meals will not only ensure you get the best out of your workout while you’re exercising, but it will help you recover quicker after your session, leading to faster results.
Optimal results from your exercise sessions come from consistent recovery. This consistency comes from optimising your pre- and post-workout meals, and prioritising sleep.
Maximising your pre- and post-nutrition is the difference between being busy and being productive. It’s one of the reasons why so many people train for years, yet experience no results.
Having the right nutrition also helps you focus in your training session, which means you can train better, which leads to better and faster results.
What is the best workout meal?
Now you know why it’s important to eat before and after your workout, you’re probably wondering what you should eat.
The best results come when you eat meals containing carbohydrate and protein, before and after your workout.
Eating carbs before exercise provides you with the energy you need to exercise. This energy is broken down into glucose which enters our muscles via the bloodstream and enables us to do our workout.
Carbohydrate is required after a workout as this helps to replenish your body’s glycogen (energy) stores, so you’re ready for your next session. If you have depleted glycogen stores, you won’t have the energy to train at your best at your next session, or you’ll feel too tired to even try.
It’s important that the carbs we eat around our exercise session are quickly absorbed by the body. The best choices include unprocessed plant-based carbohydrates such as bananas and other fruits, rice, potato, sweet potato and oats. While processed carbohydrates such as bread, wraps and pasta are quickly absorbed, unprocessed carbs are better options.
Protein builds and repairs muscle tissue. During exercise our muscles are placed under stress. Results come when we can repair this muscle tissue.
Protein before and after your workout will help repair your muscles, aid muscle growth, increase your performance, increase your strength, and aid recovery. Eating protein will also reduce muscle soreness and reduce the levels of stress hormones. In addition, it helps with weight loss by staving off hunger, stabilising blood sugar levels, and helping with thermogenesis (burning calories through heat production).
The best proteins to have before and after exercise are those that:
- have the highest bioavailability — that is they are the quickest to be absorbed and digested by the body.
- contain essential amino acids, which are required for muscle growth and repair. Our body can’t produce essential amino acids so we need to obtain them through our diet.
The best protein choices around your exercise window are whey protein, followed by whole eggs, fish, poultry and lean red meat, in that order.
Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, which is the watery part of the milk that separates during cheese production. Research studies have shown that it’s particularly effective at increasing muscle growth when consumed right before or after a workout. And building muscle should be your main priority when it comes to exercising for weight loss, because muscle mass influences 66% of your metabolism.
While nuts and legumes are sources of protein, they don’t contain the essential amino acids that our body requires before and after exercise. Remember, our body needs these essential amino acids to repair our muscles fully in order to recovery consistently.
And a quicker recovery means quicker results.
You may not be able to eat a large meal before training, but that’s okay.
Even eating as little as two boiled eggs and a banana, or consuming whey protein in water and a banana will improve the quality of your workout dramatically. This should be consumed anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes before your workout.
After training, you should also aim to include a source of Omega-3 fatty acids, as this will ensure optimal post-workout nutrition. Good sources include flaxseed, flax oil and fish oil supplements. However, if your post-workout meal includes fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel or tuna, you don’t need an additional source of Omega-3.
Different things work for different people, so try different sources of carbs, proteins and Omega-3 to find out what works best for you.
What about fasted cardio?
With many people engaging in intermittent fasting, there is some debate as to whether fasted exercise or fasted cardio provides better weight-loss results. This is largely due to a theory that gained great publicity in 1999 — that greater weight loss occurred when exercising in a fasted state.
However, there have been several recent studies done in the area of fasted cardio to disprove this theory.
- One study showed that running for 60 minutes fasted, resulted in the same calorie deficit as someone who ate breakfast.
- Another study showed that calorie deficit and fat loss occurred with both fasted and non-fasted cardio.
- One study showed that fasted cardio led to both lower body weight and reduced body fat. However, these people were dehydrated and had reduced kidney function. The study showed that those who ate before exercise also had reduced body weight.
- A further study showed that when it comes to resistance training, fasted people showed no change in body mass index, yet they were dehydrated and had reduced kidney function.
In summary, research shows that there is no benefit to exercising in a fasted state, compared with doing it after you’ve eaten.
In the long run, fasted exercise won’t get you the results you’re after. A starving body can only exercise so hard and for so long.
You’re far better off fueling your body so you can consistently workout at around 80% capacity, than doing a workout at 100% one day, 50% another day, 30% another day, and then not training at all because you’re too tired.
Remember, the best and quickest results come to those who can consistently recover from their training sessions, so they can train again.
We don’t recommend training on an empty stomach as it makes it difficult to put in your best effort. It can also make you light-headed, dizzy and unfocussed, increasing the likelihood of you sustaining an injury.
Don’t forget rest
A crucial piece of the weight loss puzzle that most people forget about is rest.
The diet and fitness industry has led us to believe that the more calories you burn, the more weight you’ll lose. This is what drives people to exercise every day, and sometimes a couple of times a day.
But in reality, you need to incorporate rest and recovery time to get the best results.
Sleep and rest is vital if you want to lose weight and change your body shape. Without it, you put your body under too much stress, which only leads to weight gain. Research also shows that those who fail to get enough sleep are more likely to gain weight.
As well as considering your workout meal, you need to consider recovery time.
If you need help working out how to exercise and eat to lose weight long-term, without starving yourself or spending countless hours exercising, contact us now.