PRE, DURING, POST WORKOUT NUTRITION & HYDRATION
In our last video, we talked about nutrition in a general sense. Now we’re going to get specific when it comes to making sure our bodies get the fuel they need to train for a Spartan Race.
So why is it important to be thoughtful about what we eat before and after a workout, and possibly what kinds of nutrients we ingest during a workout?
What we eat prior to a workout can contribute to whether or not you have the energy to make it through a tough training session. It can boost performance during a training session. It can help you stay hydrated, preserve your muscle mass and aid in recovery.
Here’s how you can go about doing that:
Eat some lean protein - protein helps increase muscle mass which will contribute to performance increases. It also can help prevent muscle damage, which can help with recovery. Also - protein before a workout is helpful and important, but speed of digestion isn’t as important here - so you don’t need to have a quick-digesting protein shake. Protein in any form works here.
Eat some carbs - carbs are your friend if you’re training for a race! Carbs give you the energy you need to do the work required in a tough training session. Carbs break down into muscle and liver glycogen, which is often called upon in a workout, especially a workout where you’re not doing sustained uninterrupted work (e.g. lifting, short intervals, power training).
Eat some healthy fats - although fats don’t appear to do anything connected with performance, fats help slow digestion, which can help prevent insulin spikes or crashes. Fats also provide vitamins and minerals.
So when and what should you eat before a workout? It really depends on when you work out, how much time you have available before a workout, and what your tolerance is for food before a workout. Here are a couple practical options:
#1 - 2-3 hours before a workout
This is most practical if you’re not exercising first thing in the morning, unless you enjoy getting up three hours before an early morning workout. But if you have the time: have a portion of protein, nutrient dense carbs, veggies and a small amount of fat. What’s a portion, you may ask? The easiest way to figure that out is to use your hand. A palm size of protein. A fist of nutrient dense carbs like brown rice. A fist of vegetables. And a thumb size portion of a healthy fat. You can increase or decrease depending on the length/intensity of your workout, and if you’re currently working on losing weight and therefore trying to stay in an energy defecit (which we covered in the last lesson).
#2 - 60 minutes or less before your workout
If you don’t have as much time or if your tolerance for food before a workout is not so great, do a smaller meal within an hour of your workout. An easy way to do this is to make a smoothie that includes a scoop of protein powder, a fist of veggies, one or two cupped handfuls of fruit and almond milk. Many people have a greater tolerance for food in liquid form than solid form right before a workout.
Whatever the case, it’s better to have something than nothing. Beyond that, tailor the time and the ingredients based on what you like or can tolerate.
So let’s talk about what you need during exercise.
The point of replenishing your nutrition during exercise is to keep you hydrated while you lose water through sweat, boost your performance and prevent you from running out of gas before the workout is over and preserve muscle.
If you’re doing an intense workout that includes strength work as well as cardio, it will be helpful to consume some protein and carbohydrates during the workout. A scoop of protein powder with a carbohydrate drink (like a sports drink) will help give you both.
By the way, if you really follow the guidelines above, you won’t likely need a sports drink for a workout that’s less than 2 hours, unless it’s in intense heat. But if you don’t end up getting an ideal pre-workout meal or if you can’t tolerate it, a sports drink can definitely come in handy to make sure you’re getting the carbs you need to maintain your energy and boost performance.
Ultimately, the #1 consideration for a workout less than 2 hours long is hydration. You should be drinking water often. A bit of trivia - when your thirst reflex kicks in, you’re already starting to dehydrate. So drink water every chance you get.
If you are exercising in the heat or for more than 2 hours, be sure to drink an electrolyte drink. If you only drink water in these conditions, your blood sodium levels can get too low (since you sweat it out at such a high level), and that can lead to a condition called hyponatremia. This condition causes your heart and muscles to contract erratically, and in extreme cases could lead to death. On a less serious level, the low blood sodium could lead to muscle cramping, which is common on a Spartan Race course. So sports drinks can really come in handy in these situations.
Now let’s talk about post workout nutrition. What are the benefits?
Future performance improvements
So post-workout nutrition plays a huge role in those gains that you’re looking to achieve.
Eating protein after a workout helps repair your muscles and stimulate muscle growth. So if you’re looking for a PR in your lifts or even want to improve your running speed, protein will help.
Carbohydrates help replenish the muscle glycogen used in your workout, and helps prep you for future workouts.
Fats don’t diminish the benefits of protein and carbohydrates, and as I mentioned above, provide some vitamins and minerals. So a small dose of healthy fats can be ok after a workout.
So when should you eat this meal? It really depends on what your pre-workout meal looked like.
If your pre-workout meal was small - or didn’t happen at all - get your post-workout meal as soon as possible after your workout.
If you had a larger pre-workout meal, then you have a 1-2 hour window to get that post workout meal and see the best benefits from it.
The measurement rules are pretty much the same as the pre-workout meal. A palm size of protein, a fist of carbohydrates, a fist of veggies or fruit, and a thumb sized portion of fats.
If you’re not super hungry for whole foods after a workout, a smoothie may then be the best way to get this nutrition in.
And, of course, the portions can be fudged, especially if you just did a longer workout or endurance event. In that case, definitely increase.
So these were some general pre, during and post workout recommendations and guidelines. In our next lesson, we’ll get into some of the specifics on some ways to prep for and on race day!