To eat or not to eat…?
If you know much about me, you know my answer is pretty much always, "eat!". Hence why, as you walk into the gym, I've probably got food in front of me, I'm talking about being hungry, or I'm asking what everyone's next meal is (mostly for inspiration).
[In a typical long gym day: 5.45 am bagel, 7.45 am skyr and apple, 9 am banana bread, 11 am oats, 2.30 pm meat and veg, 4 pm other variety of meat and veg, 7 pm handfuls of nuts, 9 pm whatever I haven't eaten yet at home]
I do this because I want to maximise the energy I can put into the things I do in my day - training, coaching, conversations. For that reason, I want to talk a little about pre and post training fuel.
How often do you think that you’d get better results if you skip your meal after training? Whether that be greater fat loss, better performance?
Yeah, I’ve been there. I thought it would speed up fat loss.
Do you also think that by not eating before you’ll get better results? You’ll feel better, burn more fat, develop superpowers?
Yeah, I thought that too.
Eating before activity
The thing here is, you can go to a training session fasted (not eaten since the night before) and feel groggy AF with the intention of burning more fat. Or you can go in at least armed with a banana, a glass of orange juice or cordial, or a slice of jam toast (i.e. not very much). You could also do this by having a higher carb dinner the night before if you know you really cannot face having anything before training.
As a result, you'd probably burn more fat, because you have the energy to work harder,. You could achieve better results because you had the energy to use good technique. You'd also feel like you have actual energy to push out a PB or at least have a session you’re proud of.
Without some kind of fueling, there’s a good chance that sluggish, groggy unfocused, hangry feeling will kick about for most of the day. Cue high sugar/fat snacks, overload of coffee and a burning desire to nap after stabbing your colleague.
What about after?
Feed your gains! Basically, if you feel depleted, hungry, or tired - imagine how your muscles feel! I can guarantee they don’t feel like growing bigger or stronger. Under fueling and over training also won’t help you to get your best fat loss, muscle gain or performance results, instead, your body will feel it’s in a state of deprivation and store that fat - sadly, this is especially true for ladies.
In short, not eating around your training to boost a calorie deficit may prevent the consumption of a few calories early in the day. But it will also likely slow down progress and performance, as well as recovery.
The beauty of strength training is that we keep burning calories for hours after. In order to do that our bodies need to be functioning well (i.e. fueled optimally). If there was a sale or a discount on your favourite product, wouldn’t you take extra because it’ll make you feel good? So eat more around training so your body can use this bonus energy for better results and then balance it out throughout the day.
Without this fuel - ideally from a mix of good protein and carbs, we put our body in a catabolic state. This is where we are losing mass (fat and muscle, the body isn’t fussy on what it eats to survive). During this time, processes and reactions get slower and do the opposite of what we’d like, like gaining fat instead of losing it or losing muscle instead of gaining it.
If you've already done the hard work in the gym, keep it up after and plan in your tasty post session protein and carbs.
Other perks to post-training fuel:
Fills the muscle with glycogen, so they look fuller and you can see the hard work you’ve put in
Reduces inflammation and if you’re lucky, can help to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs) as you’ve allowed the muscle to heal more
Boosts your immune system
Juicy details of how:
When to have it?
Ladies: ideally within an hour of activity - keep a protein shake and banana in your bag if you need to have something in a hurry
Gents: within two hours
What to have
Starchy carbs are great
Potatoes, peas, corn, root vegetables, bananas
If you’re in a calorie deficit and there are carbs you normally feel you should restrict more, this is your time to get the most out of them
Less effective but still work
Pastas, breads and grains
Whilst they’re a good choice, they don’t give you as much bang for your buck in the recovery game as the humble potato or some root veg (this may be why I always want to recommend hash browns after horrible Saturday sessions).
They can be a great quick release option pre-training though.
The liver loves fruit, so it’ll steal their goodness before they get to the muscle, so keep them for another point in the day.
As much as you’d think fruit is great for inflammation so it much be good here - the reality is that denser veggie options are much better for absorption and a speedy recovery.
What do you think about post workout fuel now? Going to rethink and give it a try?