Nowhere is meal timing more important than before and after your workout.
Your workouts break down muscle and use glycogen stores (glycogen is a store of carbs used for energy), so it is important to have protein (for muscle repair) and carbs (to replenish glycogen) standing by. Without them, your workouts are like fighting a lightsaber duel with no access to the Force; you may make some progress and get some lucky strikes, but you won’t maximize your potential.
Let’s look at carbs first. Since they digest quickly, having them post-workout is great for replenishing glycogen stores and helping with protein-synthesis. Having them before the workout provides extra energy, making for better workouts and therefore more progress in the gym.
Regardless of your fitness goals, have about 25-50 grams of carbs before your workout. After it, if you are trying to gain, eat 200 grams of carbs if you want. If you are trying to lose, keep it sensible, but let this be the time of day when you have the most carbs, since your body will be most primed to use them.
Moving on to the protein. It is a great idea to have some before a workout because it is digested much more slowly. Having a protein shake immediately after your workout is something you should definitely do, but having it before the workout is great because it’s slow digestion will ensure that it is available when your body needs it most. Again, you need this to give your body the raw materials it needs to repair your muscles. Have about 20 grams before your workout, and 30-50 grams after regardless of your goals.
Apologies for the fire drill, but don’t waste time after your workout. Certain enzymes (proteins related to digestion and metabolism) jump to action when you exercise. While they are active, your body is more likely to turn your food into carbs stored in your muscles and liver than it is to store it as body fat. Some studies have shown that this “window” can last as long as two hours, but try to get the protein and carbs in within the first 30-60 minutes after the workout. Better safe than late! If you’re having dinner very shortly after your workout, make sure it’s high protein and high-carb. If you’ve got a long commute, go for a snack that has both. A shake or bar are good options, as are beef jerky and a piece of fruit (my fave).
If this was way too long and you didn’t read it, have 20 grams of protein and 25-50 grams of carbs about 45 min before your workout, and have another 30-50 grams of protein and your day’s largest serving of carbs within the hour after your workout!
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