Meals and energy
There are a lot of questions when it comes to working out and eating.
What should I eat before my workout?
How long should I wait after I eat to work out?
Will this food give me the energy I need for my workout?
These are all valid questions, and the answer to them depends on a variety of factors.
In this blog post, we will explore what you should eat before a workout- and how much time you should allow between your meal and your workout.
Keep reading to learn more!
We are lions – at least a little bit
When we look at nature and how things are organized there, we can find great examples of what predators do just before and shortly after their next hunt.
A lion for example chills and enjoys the shadows of the trees before deciding that it is time for the next meal.
Does the lion have a full stomach just before hunting time? No – definitely not!
It knows hunting will need all its performance and a full stomach doesn´t boost performance at all.
On the other hand: does a lion wait until it is nearly starved and then start the next hunting session? No – that is also not the case.
No energy reserves will not lead to a successful hunt either.
What does this tell us? The lion feels the right point in time when it will perform at its best because the success of the next hunt is very crucial for the whole pack.
It knows by instinct one important fact: you need fuel in order to perform and a body running on an empty stomach with no fuel in it won´t work.
There are a few similarities between us and the lion.
You are the lion and the hunt is your workout. You need fuel to perform.
And this is pretty much where the similarities end.
In our modern world, we have either lost the natural feeling of our body or our daily schedule forces us into a counterproductive nutrition pattern that does not fit our natural body clock – or both…
It´s all about timing
The feeling of being hungry is a good indicator that it is time to eat something.
Our stomach doesn´t start growling when we are well-nourished and have enough energy reserves in our body. It starts growling when the energy level drops and the body needs more fuel.
But a growling stomach right before a workout is a sure indicator for you that you missed the point of refueling. This workout is off to a bad start.
We are not really lions of course but we can still take this analogy and use it for ourselves.
The human body also needs fuel to perform. When we work out, our muscles need energy in order to contract and move. This energy comes from the food we eat.
So if we want to have a successful workout, it is important to eat before we work out.
But how much time should we allow between our meal and our workout?
We might have lost the feeling for our body in our modern world, but luckily the same modern world has brought science to us. And we can use science to understand how our body works and then draw the right conclusions on what we should eat and when.
The Meal Before Workout Timeline
I know you came here because you want to learn quickly how long you have to wait after a meal before you start your workout.
Actually, there is more to that question and you should put the effort into understanding this topic in more depth – if you want to put that effort in then keep on reading below the infographic.
For all other fast-paced people without much time – here is a very basic meal before workout timeline:
Your post workout meal should include some high quality protein to help your body in building new muscle tissue.
There´s more to learn!
So you want to learn more about how intense physical activity, exercise metabolism, pre workout meal, post workout meal, muscle building, protein intake etc. all work together?
Then lets have a healthy snack and dive into this topic…
As we mentioned before, the answer to when should we eat before a workout is not a simple one. It depends on the type of meal as well as on the type of workout or the type of sports you are doing.
But in fact it’s not difficult science and we´ll try to focus on the main aspects that affect us most.
Streams of oxygen
Studies have shown that our body redirects blood flow to our digestive system after eating a meal.
This means that this blood flow is missing in our muscles, if there is not enough time to finish the digestion process.
Generally spoken, fatty meals will extend the time our digestive system needs to finish its work. So as you can still eat a proper healthy meal about three hours before a workout, the size of the meal reduces as you get closer to workout time.
Our digestive systems needs to work less and thus needs less blood to do its work, if the meal is less fatty, has less carbohydrates and is smaller in size.
Therefore, if you are doing a light workout or if you are eating a small meal, you can reduce the amount of time between your meal and your workout.
It is also important to listen to your body. If you feel sluggish or bloated after eating, you may want to give yourself more time to digest before working out.
If you are unsure about what type of meal to eat before your workout, here are a few examples that will always work:
-A bowl of oatmeal with fruit
-A slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter
-A small salad with chicken or fish
Muscle protein breakdown vs Muscle protein synthesis
Two forces fight for supremacy
It is important to understand that muscle protein breakdown and muscle protein synthesis always take place at the same time and that both processes take place constantly!
You can compare a muscle with a building: the amino acids that are produced during muscle protein synthesis are the different construction materials you need to build a house.
You continue to organize new materials to either add new parts to your house or repair damaged parts.
On the other hand, weather, wind and rain will try to erode your house.
Pieces of your roof might fall off, bricks break, and the sun lets the paint fade.
Both processes happen simultaneously.
Muscle protein breakdown
After exercise, the body tries to replenish its glycogen stores and mend damaged muscle fibers (to hopefully grow back stronger). Consuming the appropriate post workout nutrition after each workout helps to:
- Increase muscle development and minimize protein breakdown
- Restore glycogen so you can perform your next session faster
- Recover more quickly
Protein and amino acids are the key nutrients that help with this, but timing is also important. Research suggests that when it comes to protein consumption after a workout, sooner may be better than later.
A study published in 2016 found that people who consumed a whey protein drink immediately after working out (compared to waiting two hours) had greater muscle protein synthesis.
Another study published in 2012 had similar findings, showing that people who consumed whey protein immediately before and after working out had more muscle growth than those who didn’t.
Is Whey Protein Really Better Than Plant-Based Protein?Whey Protein Really Better Than Plant-Based Protein?
Muscle protein synthesis
Our body uses this process to convert protein into important amino acids.
It is triggered by strength training and proteins derived from food.
Intense resistance exercise sessions harm the muscles, but consuming protein helps to increase the number of amino acids in the body.
They aid in the prevention of protein breakdown, help to build muscle and counteract muscle soreness.
20–30 grams of protein in your pre workout meal can help to promote protein synthesis in the body for several hours.
The following are some examples of healthy foods that are rich in protein:
- fish, such as salmon and tuna
- poultry, such as chicken and turkey
- nuts, beans, lentils
Anyone interested in building stronger muscles should ensure that they receive an adequate amount of protein each day.
This is especially important for people who exercise regularly, as their bodies require more protein to repair and build muscle tissue.
Muscle breakdown before fat loss?
Why does our body attack our muscles before burning fat?
The body will always choose the most efficient way to produce energy.
First, our body will look for glucose to burn which can be found in carbs.
Then – before starting to burn fat – our body looks for glycogen which is stored in our liver and muscles.
This is because stored glycogen in the muscles is easier for the body to break down and convert into glucose, which can then be used for energy.
Stored fat, on the other hand, is not as easily broken down and converted into glucose.
Therefore, the body will always choose to use glycogen as its first source of energy.
It is only when glycogen stores are depleted that the body will begin to break down stored fat for energy.
You see – it´s no rocket science at all!
Before your next workout, keep in mind that poor nutrient timing will negatively impact your exercise performance.
A balanced diet with the right foods will restore your energy stores and make the next exercise session much more effective.
Also, make sure to consume protein soon after working out to help your muscles recover and grow stronger.
How much protein?
As a rule of thumb, an adult will need at least 0,8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight in order not to have any deficiencies.
Sports medicine recommends that a person who does a lot of resistance training and wants to build muscle should take up 2,2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Remember, the key is to eat a meal that is easy to digest to avoid an upset stomach and a meal that gives you sustained energy throughout your workout.
Now that you know what to eat before a workout, as well as how much time to allow between your meal and your workout, put this knowledge into practice and see how it works for you. Be sure to listen to your body and adjust as needed. And most importantly, have fun!
If you liked this article please make sure to like and share and tell your friends 🙂
Maybe you are interested to learn more about workout supplements? Then read our article about supplements…
Or maybe thermogenic pre workouts are more interesting? Then jump over to this article to read more about this topic.
And as always : have a great day!