What should I eat around training? Should I eat at all?
If you want to get good results in your training, then yes, this is definitely something to think about.
What do good results mean though?
Grow muscle/get stronger
Increase the feeling of energy - during your session, and after
Be able to move well for longer - better endurance/cardio/aerobic capacity
Feel like you could push for longer, or at a higher weight, or with greater intensity
Lose body fat - a combination of increased muscle and lower fat mass
Feel better able to do more in the day, without an instant nap after
Improved mood before, during and after your workout
I often speak to newbies to my classes who don’t eat prior to training and they tell me a mixture of:
"I just not really feeling motivated today"
Feeling dizzy halfway through the session
Moving slowly and without purpose
Doubt whether they can do the things I’ve asked
They suddenly feel like they've hit a wall and have nothing left to give
Still sore from 2-3 days before.
These are all indicators to review your pre-training nutrition.
You have a couple of options here and it will vary depending on when in the day you go to the gym. Overall the principle is the snack - meal 2-3 hours before, or snack 60-90 minutes before.
Eat a balanced meal (carbohydrates, protein and fats) 2-3 hours before exercise
This will give you plenty of time to digest the meal and use the energy stored to get the most out of your session
If you’re training early morning that could mean adding a few extra carbs to your dinner if you don't want to get up too early
Look for: Rice, pasta, bagel, toast (wholewheat if you can), quinoa, couscous, root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, parsnips)
Avoid: highly processed and sugary foods as they’ll lead to a dip in energy and blood sugar soon after
Eat a snack with a mix of protein and carbs 30-90 minutes before (depending how quickly you can digest food will depend where you sit in this range)
The quick-release sugars in the carbs are going to help you with quick energy that you want at short notice before exercise
Banana, gluten-free toast and jam (easier to digest than other breads), fruits (pre-activity, fruit is a great way to make their natural sugars)
Meanwhile, the protein will help you to begin recovering before you’ve even started moving and keep you feel full throughout the session (satisfied, not stuffed or suddenly starving)
Skyr yoghurt, a scoop of protein powder in a fruit smoothie
If neither of these is really appealing to you, especially in the morning, add some honey to your coffee, eat half a banana/apple, or add some sugar-free cordial to your water bottle and sip it throughout the session
Also, drink water! Especially in the morning. The body needs to work hard to pump blood around, especially when you're moving and breathing more. Then even harder when there's less water in the body to keep it running around smoothly. Help your heart out - hydrate!
Often fasted exercise can leave you feeling tired, drained and hungry for the rest of the day, but you don’t have to feel that way. There are so many stories of fasted exercise being better for fat loss (not untrue, but also not optimal if you also wanted to feel happy and healthy). But have you ever tried having adequate fuel to really push yourself through a session, leave feeling strong and then have energy for the rest of the day?
What about after?
Get stuck into a good meal after to speed up the recovery and allow those gains to be seen.
If we wait too long (over two hours) or don’t eat enough, we can prevent our muscles from receiving the fuel they really need to reach their potential. Muscle protein synthesis (where the muscle takes on proteins allowing it to repair micro tares from exercise and grow back stronger) can only occur in an environment where the muscle has been used and then fed protein and carbs.
Ever notice that when you have a good meal after training, your muscles look fuller and really ‘pop’, like “oh, hey bicep, where did you come from?”. This is when the glycogen stores have fuel in them, storing them ready to support your day and your next session. So eating can make us look more toned and muscular? Win win in my head - happy, not hungry and jacked!
What if I'm really not comfortable eating carbs?
Many people have a fear of carbs, especially when it comes to weight loss. If you want to integrate them without nervousness and optimise your training, the best time you could eat them is before and after a session. As I mentioned above, they give you that quick-release energy before and fill up your muscle stores after, giving them a clear purpose on both sides and helping you to feel your absolute best.
How could you lose out here? More energy to enjoy exercise and then prime recovery to enjoy life more!
For one week, try eating before your session and tell me how you feel.