Fun-fact Friday: At any given point of the day, I am likely thinking about food.
What am I going to eat? When can I eat next? What do I need to eat still?
Anyone else with me on that? Bodybuilders/weightlifters definitely have a completely different relationship with food than the average person, and I realize that more and more through every new client I acquire. In fact, often one of their first complaints: "I can't eat this much food." (but, I mean, of all the problems to have, I feel like this is definitely not the worst one...)
It is times like this where I stop and reflect on the concept of food and how it differently affects people in society. If you are so far into the "lifting and eating" world, it may be hard to remember what it is like on the other side; but, I'm often reminded through my clients, friends, and family members, and you know what's on the other side? Either people not eating enough, or people not eating correctly!
In terms of not eating enough, I would say 98% of my clients fall into this category. I'm not sure if it is due to the society subtly putting it in our heads that the less you eat, the skinnier or "fitter" you'll be, or what, but this is the first issue I work to resolve with clients. Once that is in check, it is about learning how to eat correctly. Yes, there is a "correct" way to eat, which brings me to the topic of this blog: meal timing.
So, I get clients eating a healthy amount, which in turn gets them eating correctly. What starts out feeling like a lot, winds up feeling comfortable and satisfying as you gain energy and your body falls into the new eating routine. Part of this routine includes viewing food as more than just breakfast, lunch and dinner, but as a source of nourishment, and with that comes timing what is eaten and when it is eaten.
For quite some time now, nutrient timing has been the topic of numerous research studies and reviews. While there are many claims being thrown around, one thing holds true: we should be fueling our bodies pre- and post- workout with food.
1.) Our stored glycogen is being converted into glucose, and then burned up as body-fuel to push us through our workout
2.) We are tearing down those muscle tissues and exhausting our glycogen while doing said workout
Think of glycogen as gas for your car. You need a good stash of it to get you from start to finish, and once you get to the finish, you'll be low on gas. So, you need to refill to get back to the start. A pre-workout meal is like that first stop at the gas station pre-roadtrip-- you use it to fuel up.
Now, your glycogen stores depend on your carbohydrate intake, this means in order to get the glycogen "gas", you need to carb-up! Do so by selecting a meal before your workout that contains a healthy amount of carbs (this amount varies from person to person and also depends on the activity to follow).
"But I thought protein was key when working out, why should the meal by high in carbs?"
While, yes, protein is also needed, carbohydrates are very efficient at using oxygen and use less than fats or proteins, this is why we want to stock up on them. However, timing lean protein pre-workout is still essential as well because of the second point I mentioned: we are tearing down muscle tissue during our workout. Protein pre-workout will minimize muscle damage and supply amino acids (muscle building blocks) to help rebuild tissue throughout your exercises.
So, consuming this mix of carbohydrates and protein, with little to no fat, before your workout will trigger insulin and glycogen production, thus minimizing the damage caused by exercise and producing quick, lasting energy throughout it.
On the flip side, timing a similar meal (high in carbs/protein, low in fat) immediately after your workout has it's own set of benefits. Whereas your "pre" meal is used for fuel and to minimize muscle damage, your "post" meal is that second stop at the hypothetical gas station where you re-fuel and re-fill on "glycogen-gas".
Following a hard workout, your body is severely depleted of glycogen and glucose, so you need to immediately replenish that in order to generate ATP, which is the main source of energy that keeps everything going (including muscle contraction). Replenishing it is done most efficiently through simple, fast-absorbing carbs. In conjunction, protein should be consumed to repair and build muscle tissue. This will help stimulate protein synthesis, which is the creation of new muscle.
While the theory of the "Anabolic Window" timing varies, I like to play it safe by consuming my high-carb, high-protein, low-fat "meal" within 30 minutes of concluding my workout, as the body is primed and ready for nutrient uptake during this time. The further you move away from your workout, the less geared up your body is to accept nutrients that will promote muscle growth/muscle repair.
To briefly sum all that up, timing your post-workout "meal" of carbs and protein will allow for you replenish glycogen stores, encourage creation of new muscle, and recover tearing of muscle tissue. Now, I put the word meal in quotations just now because I do not mean an actual, sit down, whole food, meal. As I mentioned, we want fast-absorbing carbs and proteins, and while there is nothing wrong with whole foods, they often take longer to digest. Time is of the essence post-workout, we want nutrients delivered as quickly as possible. So, save the more complex carbs for your pre-workout meal instead.
Example of a post-workout meal: all natural fruit snacks (simple carbs) and an iso protein shake (fast digesting)
There you have the short, not as scientific, overview of meal-timing. This may feel like mayhem at first (having to think so much about your food and when/what to eat) but soon it become second nature; and with this style of thinking, will come an all new outlook on food.
Food is nothing to be afraid of. It is not about eating less to be "fit" and "skinny", it is about eating MORE of the right things at the right times. Food is awesome, you guys! It fuels and nourishes us, and generates so many great functions within our bodies.
Is it really any question as to why I'm always thinking about it??