As powerful as a good workout is, it means nothing without the proper nutrition. What we eat plays a massive part in our health and fitness goals, with timing, amounts, food combinations, and choices either amplifying or detracting from our efforts in the gym.
A healthy eating plan is an essential part of staying fit, but it’s what you eat directly before and after a workout that really makes a difference. If it’s strong results that you’re after, then paying attention to what goes in your mouth during these times is crucial.
All too often, gym lovers are fuelling themselves with the wrong foods and then wondering why they’re not getting the results they want. They know that adequate hydration is important, they know that carbs, protein, and fat are important, but somewhere along the line they make the wrong choices. If you’ve been working hard in the gym but feel like you’re not reaping the benefits you thought you would be, perhaps you’re eating some of the wrong foods before and after your workouts.
Nutrition mistakes before working out
1. Reaching for the sugar hit
If you’re choosing to do your workout following a hard day’s work, chances are that you’re feeling a little tired. You might think it’s a good idea to reach for that Snickers bar (sugar and fat!) on your desk as a way to spike your energy, but that’s a bad move. Sure, your blood sugar will spike and you’ll feel great for a few moments, but as soon as you start working hard you’ll crash mid-workout. Sugar is fine but only in a properly formulated pre-workout drink.
2. Presuming your ‘bad meal’ will be wiped away in the gym
Many people think it’s okay to indulge in their worst eating habits just before the gym, because it will be worked off during the workout. Wrong! Eating a Big Mac and chips at anytime isn’t going to do you good, but if you work out within 4 hours of eating your Maccas meal, you’ll be seriously slowed down as a result. H igh-fat meals take time to digest and your blood will be flowing to your stomach to help with that process, which means it’s moving away from your muscles – where it needs to be the most.
3. Not eating
If you’re thinking that working out on an empty stomach will carry some benefits, you’re fooling yourself. Training hard on an empty stomach starves your muscles of glycogen, which makes you tire faster. You don’t have to sit down to an entire meal, but at the very least you should tuck into a banana and a scoop of protein before getting stuck in at the gym.
4. Downing an energy drink
It’s common knowledge that a little caffeine pre-workout can help rev you up to perform a strong exercise session, but not if it comes in the form of a high-sugar drink. Energy drinks contain tons of workout-crashing sugars and are known to wreak havoc with your sleeping patterns. As sleep is crucial to your exercise goals, get your caffeine fix from somewhere else.
5. Raw egg shake
We’ve all seen Rocky down a big glass of raw eggs before a fight, but life isn’t a movie. In real life, raw eggs can cause salmonella and diarrhea, and while eggs are a good protein source pre-workout, the risk isn’t worth it. You can get just as much protein from a protein shake or a rice cake with cottage cheese.
Food mistakes people make after working out
1. Raw vegetables
You might be shocked to find out that eating raw vegetables following a workout is a big no-no – they simply won’t cut it as a recovery food source. On their own they aren’t substantial enough to help restore your energy and maintain a healthy metabolic rate, so if you must have them, consume them with a protein-packed dip such as hommus.
2. Eating food high in fat
When you’ve had a big session in the gym, your brain is likely screaming “feed me please!”. To quickly satisfy your brain’s request, you may be tempted to hit the KFC drive thru, but this will only undo all you’ve achieved in the gym! Right now, your body is itching to digest some food to replenish glycogen, but if you feed it fat that will work against you and send that fat into storage.
3. Salty foods
Potassium is an important part of the recovery phase, and as high-salt foods like potato chips and bacon lower your levels of potassium, you could be harming your body’s recovery. Bacon is also slow to metabolise after a high-octane, calorie-burning workout, and will slow your digestion spike down.
4. Greasy foods
Just one slice of greasy pizza or one hash brown will cancel out the gains you made in the gym. Greasy foods are calorie-dense, which means they carry a large amount of calories in just a small amount. Because they take time to make you feel full , you may find that you’ve eaten way more than you intended or needed to.
5. Not drinking enough water, or drinking too much
Dehydration can contribute to post-workout fatigue, but according to Dr. Tim Noakes, drinking before you’re thirsty is misguided. Over-hydrating can actually worsen athletic performance, causing your cells to swell, which can lead to gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, and soreness.
Nobody wants to see their workouts go to waste, so think carefully about your diet both before and after your workout. Try to keep the following in mind:
- Eat 30-90 minutes beforehand,
- Keep the food low in fat,
- Avoid fibre,
- Consume 30 grams of protein, and
- Eat fast-acting carbs such as white rice and potatoes, even simple sugars.
- Consume 30 grams of protein,
- Eat foods rich in potassium, and
- Consume wholesome carbohydrates.