There is plenty of evidence to show how important nutrition is for exercise, from helping performance to improving recovery. But it is often confusing to know if it is best to eat before or after exercise.
To answer this, first consider what you are exercising for, as your goal may affect whether you should eat before or not. Second, consider the level you are at. The needs of an elite athlete are different from those of a beginner and are likely to affect how much energy is needed for food – and even the number of meals eaten. Third, think about what works for you. Some people thrive when exercising in a fasting state, while for others it is the opposite.
When we exercise, our bodies need energy. This energy is supplied by fuel, either stored in our bodies (as carbohydrates in our liver and muscles or from fat stores) or from the food we eat. If the exercise is demanding, or if we exercise for a long time, we use more stored carbohydrates (known as glycogen).
Studies show that carbohydrates in our diet are important for replenishing our glycogen stores between training periods and also when eaten before training sessions.
So if your energy is low or you are doing a longer or more demanding session, consuming carbohydrate-rich foods ̵
There is also evidence that carbohydrate type can help improve metabolic responses to exercise. While this may not necessarily affect performance, eating foods with a lower glycemic index (foods that produce a slower-release carbohydrate effect, such as porridge oats or whole grain breads) may better maintain energy and provide benefits (such as lower glycogen stores) during exercise for some.
However, eating just before exercise can cause indigestion, cramps or nausea. Consuming an easily digestible, carbohydrate-rich meal (for example, porridge with blueberries) about three hours before a workout can help maintain energy and improve exercise quality without necessarily leading to bowel problems. Burning also helps maintain blood sugar levels during exercise, which can positively affect performance.
If your goal is to build strength or muscle, evidence also suggests that eating protein before exercise can improve overall recovery. By providing essential amino acids before they are needed, it can support early recovery and may be relevant for those who do intensive training.
On the flip side, however, recent research has shown that training in the fasting state – for example, the first thing in the morning before breakfast – can actually lead to positive adjustments associated with efficient fuel consumption and fat burning.
This does not necessarily mean greater weight loss, but it can optimize fuel efficiency, which may be important for those training for a marathon, for example, to help delay fatigue. Regular exercise can also have other health benefits such as improved blood sugar and hormone regulation.
But if we think about the training point, it all depends on how we recover and adapt from it. This is where nutrition has an important role to play. Early research has shown the benefits of eating carbohydrates after exercise to restore muscle glycogen. This not only affects our ability to train many times a week by helping the muscles recover faster, but it has also been shown to affect how well we perform.
Studies have also shown that eating soon after exercise (as opposed to waiting a few hours) can help maximize recovery, especially if a carbohydrate intake of approx. 1.3 grams per Kg body weight per. Hours during the two to six hour short recovery phase. This can be helpful to know if you are doing another session that day or within eight hours.
If your workout sessions are more spread out, early carb replenishment is less important as long as you aim to adhere to the suggested guidelines, which for moderate activity are around five to seven grams of carbs per day. Kg body weight per day.
But there is also an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to the importance of protein feeding during post-workout recovery, both to maximize muscle growth and support glycogen replenishment (if the protein is ingested with carbohydrates). Research also shows that if exercise is performed later in the day, then consuming a small protein meal (such as a shake) before bedtime can also help with acute recovery leading to muscle growth.
Before and after
Unless fasting exercise for a specific reason (such as for metabolic adjustments or personal preferences) there seems to be clear benefits to eating before (and during) prolonged exercise. This may also be the case for more trained athletes who want to gain a performance advantage. But using nutrition to strategically recover should be a must for those who are serious about maximizing their training.
But what about both? In the case of resistance training, such as weightlifting, research shows that consuming a combination of main carbohydrate, protein and creatine immediately before and after training provided better muscle and strength gains over ten weeks compared to consuming these nutrients away from training.
While it is important to eat after exercise to build muscle and recover between workouts, it may be just as important to eat before a workout for those who perform demanding or long exercise programs. But regardless of the type of exercise, it is important to make sure that you eat enough carbohydrates, protein and other important nutrients to fuel yourself.
This article was originally published on The Conversation by Justin Roberts at Anglia Ruskin University. Read the original article here.