Posted on February 28, 2019 by Josh Puttock

There is no secret formula to structuring your workout meals. Whether you’re fuelling up for your next session, or looking for the recovery meal of your dreams, it will come down to two things: carbs and proteins.

These are the two areas of the food spectrum you’re going to want to hone in on pre- and post-workout. And as to why they are SO important, let’s quickly look over what each of them do for the body.

Cs and Ps

During exercise, muscle protein is stripped and broken down: the speed at which it does this will depend on how hard you’re pushing it. We need to replenish these proteins in order to boost recovery and recuperation, so that we can go back and do it all again. Proteins also set the foundation for building new muscle tissue, which is essential for gaining mass. Diets high in protein are great for weight-focused gym training and power sports (rugby, rowing etc.). Examples of protein-rich foods would be pulses (beans and lentils), white meat (chicken, turkey), eggs and dairy (yogurts, milk and cheese).

Carbohydrates are the fundamental fuel for humans. Carbs are turned into glycogen, which is then used to power our workouts. The amount the body needs depends on what kind of activity you’re doing. Generally, cardio-focused sports such as running, swimming and cycling will benefit more from a heavier carb diet, as they require more energy over time. Foods such as pasta, potatoes, grains and legumes are high in carbohydrates and brilliant for endurance activities.

Pre- and post-workout

Before your workout, you’re obviously going to want to prepare suitably by eating the right stuff. But a key aspect of pre-exercise meal planning, which is often overlooked, is timing, i.e. when to eat before going to the gym. The general rule of thumb is the closer your meal is to the workout, the smaller is should be. Digestion will play a large part in how you feel during your session, so make sure you don’t eat too much too soon as this may cause discomfort. Two to three hours before is the recommended eating time.

What you’re eating before exercise should follow the guidelines discussed above, it’s as simple as that. If you’re planning on doing a lot of treadmill, get plenty of carbs on the plate. If it’s muscle and tissue gain that you’re after, switch up to proteins.

What should you eat post exercise? Follow the guidelines above. Weight and high-power output training require protein-rich diets, which will encourage muscle repair and growth after you’re done. Cardiovascular and endurance training, on the other hand, will benefit from a post-meal plan revolving mostly around carbs, where replenishing energy and fuel is the focus.

What about during a workout?

Eating a lot of food during your workout is not advised, but sometimes a snack or two is needed, especially if you’re in the gym for more than an hour or so. Bananas, nuts, cereal and power bars are all great options for keeping energy levels up (and quite portable). The key aspect is hydration, so make sure you’re drinking water regularly.

A balanced plate

The most important point is to make sure, whatever the workout regime, that you’re getting a balanced plate. This basically means that you shouldn’t be eating a cheese fondue after every session. Follow the guidelines above, tailor your foods and make sure to have everything in moderation. Fruit and vegetables, for example, should always be part of your diet regardless of activity or sport. You will notice the effects of a good plan pretty much straightaway, with energy levels recharging and muscles repairing, and you’ll be well on the way to a healthier, happier Spring.