When it comes to improving your fitness, your diet is just as important as what you do in the gym. If you really want to see the best possible results, you need to tailor your diet to complement your training regimen.
We spoke to coach and sports scientist, Dr Alex Harrison, to find out about the best pre- and post-workout foods and how to eat to fuel your performance in the gym to leave you feeling great in your life.
Soreness, Inflammation, and Muscle Growth
Have you ever been particularly sore the day after a workout? This is due to a phenomenon known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, caused by swelling and micro tears in the muscle tissue caused by training. What you might not know is that muscle soreness is often a positive thing.
As you strength train, you progressively overload your muscles to increase their strength and stamina.
“Muscle soreness is a good proxy for muscle growth stimulus in both magnitude and timing,” says Dr Harrison. So, although uncomfortable, we need to embrace the soreness!
What to Eat Before and After a Workout To Make the Soreness Worth It
Despite what many of us have been taught, carbs are not the enemy! In fact, they’re essential if you want to perform at your best, as they are the body’s preferred source of energy.
Dr Harrison recommends seeking out higher carbohydrate, lower fat options for your pre- and post-workout snacks. Starches and grains with lower levels of fiber are also great choices.
“Sweets are great post-workout,” Dr Harrison says. “Consider fat-free snacks that might often fall into the ‘kids’ food’ category. Simple carbs are great!”
Adequate carbs are particularly important for longer training sessions, i.e. those of around 90 minutes or longer.
Here are a few great examples of things you might want to eat before and after your workout:
- Cereal with skim milk (sugary cereal aimed at children is great here, and you’ll also benefit from the protein provided from the milk).
- Non-fat gummy candies (not hard candies).
- Low-fat or fat-free cereal bars such as Nutrigrain bars.
- White bread or toast with jam or jelly.
- Pancakes or waffles with syrup. You can choose between ordinary syrup, or low-sugar syrup if you’d prefer your carbs to come primarily from the grains as opposed to pure sucrose.
- Low-fat or fat-free ice cream with fat-free toppings.
- Low-fat or fat-free flavored yogurt or Greek yogurt (this is also a great source of protein).
- High-sugar sources and condiments (for example, you might choose a lean burger on a white bun with add ketchup).
- Sugary beverages such as sweet tea or fruit juice (add this to other foods, don’t just drink all your calories).
Optimize Your Everyday Diet to Boost Your Quality of Living
Eating the kind of diet that will assist with your training and recovery is about much more than just what you eat immediately before or after a workout. We’ve recommended some great snacks and light meals for those occasions, but what you eat every day matters even more.
“A very boldly colorful diet is one of the easiest ways to get loads of different anti-inflammatory foods and meet other daily nutrition needs,” says Dr Harrison. This means eating plenty of different fruits and vegetables every day.
You should also include plenty of starchy and higher fiber carbohydrates, such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice, and potatoes. Add in some healthy fats such as nuts, plant oils, lean meats, and fish. Cutting back on sodium, added sugar, and alcohol is a good idea for most people, and it’s never a bad idea to drink more water.
Contrary to popular belief, lactic acid is actually flushed out of your muscle tissue within 20 minutes of stopping exercise, and does not contribute to muscle soreness by itself, but if you do find yourself needing to reduce muscle soreness, use our all-natural, anti-inflammation sleeves or over-the-counter drug alternatives, or a high dose of Vitamin C. In all cases, use these during and immediately after training. Some evidence has shown that light aerobic exercise, massage, and anti-inflammatory foods can also help. Berries, cold water fatty fish such as salmon, dark greens such as kale and spinach, tomatoes, avocados, and olive oil are some great examples of anti-inflammatory foods.
But, because these remedies can actually inhibit muscle growth, Dr Harrison recommends against using them post-workout as a matter of course. However, they are ideal in situations where you need to perform well, recover quickly, and then perform again, such as in the case of a multi-day competition.