Achieving fitness goals not only requires dedication to your workout routine but also a thoughtful approach to nutrition.
As our 2024 Year Of Transformation program continues (you can find out more and join us here),Chef Pete delves into the importance of your food choices when it comes to your exercise.
There is so much folklore around sports nutrition, protein powders, carbohydrate back-loading, intermittent fasting, pre and post workout macronutrient ratios and nutrient timing. Most of the research on these topics concludes that for professional, elite athletes these aspects of fueling are not only important, but critical to gain the competitive edge. However, for the majority of the exercising population, three meals and possibly a snack or two a day comprised of whole, real foods is perfectly adequate. There should be no need to resort to processed foods, gels, bars or powders for anything.
When To Eat
A common question around fueling a workout is whether nutrient timing matters. For most fitness enthusiasts nutrient timing does not matter as much as you think, especially when compared to what you eat consistently overall in a given 24-hour period.
Studies have confirmed that the anabolic or “post-workout” window for eating a post-workout meal really only matters if you have not been fueling consistently or eating adequately.
Whether you eat 30-minutes after a workout or 2 to 3 hours after a workout is seen pretty much the same way to the body if you are meeting your daily energy needs.
The food you eat today actually impacts tomorrow's workouts and performance more than today’s, based on digestion and maximum power output since glycogen stores (energy for your muscles) are usually replenished within a 24-hour period (provided that daily energy needs are met).
Generally, if you are eating regular, balanced meals and maybe one to two snacks each day to support energy needs, timing these accordingly to allow for proper digestion before moving and maneuvering in your work out is what you need to consider. Complicated schemes of nutrient timing might make the difference between an Olympic gold and an Olympic silver, but they just are not necessary for most recreational athletes. That being said, if you are looking to eat pre-workout, aim to eat a balanced meal 2-3 hours before your workout. If your workout is closer and you feel you need some fuel, choose a small portion about 30-60 minutes prior.
If your workout leaves you in need of some fuel, try to eat a post-workout meal or snack within 30 minutes to an hour after exercising to replenish glycogen stores and kickstart the muscle recovery process.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are an energy source, providing the fuel necessary for physical activity. Real-food-based carbohydrate sources will steadily release energy, preventing blood sugar spikes and crashes during your workout.
Protein: Protein in your pre-workout meal helps support muscle protein synthesis. Choose humanely raised animal protein sources including beef, chicken, fish and eggs.
Hydration: Adequate hydration is often overlooked but is critical for optimal performance. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, decreased coordination, and impaired endurance. Aim to consume water consistently throughout the day and have a glass of water 1-2 hours before exercising.
Electrolytes: For intense or prolonged workouts, consider including electrolytes in your pre-workout routine. Electrolytes help maintain proper fluid balance, support nerve function, and prevent cramping.
Protein for Muscle Repair: Protein is crucial for muscle repair and growth after a workout. Include a source of high-quality, humanely raised animal-based protein. Aim at least 30 grams of protein in your post-workout meal.
Carbohydrates for Glycogen Replenishment: Replenishing glycogen stores is essential, especially after high-intensity or prolonged exercise. Consuming carbohydrates post-workout helps restore glycogen levels and initiates the insulin response necessary for nutrient uptake by muscle cells.
Hydration for Recovery: Rehydrate post-exercise to replace fluids lost through sweat. Water is typically sufficient for moderate workouts, but for more intense sessions, consider adding electrolytes to restore mineral balance.
Discover how to hydrate properly here
There is no one size fits all approach to nutrition—or workout nutrition for that matter. When it comes to getting the MOST out of your fitness routine, there is no question that food matters. It has been estimated that 80-90% of your fitness, performance, and body composition results are related to what goes into your mouth (or doesn’t go into your mouth).
Are you eating enough? A common roadblock many fitness enthusiasts run into is under-eating
It is easy to feel satiated on proteins, veggies, and some healthy fat, and there is a risk of falling into the trap of accidental dieting. This results in slowed progress, plateaus, decreased metabolism, impaired appetite, and spinning your wheels in the gym!
Whether your goal is to build strength, boost performance, lose weight or lean out, if you are under-eating, you will struggle to reach your goals. Food is fuel! If you are serious about reaching your fitness goals, it can be good to conduct a baseline assessment of yourself to see if you are eating enough.
Keep in mind: calories are energy and nutrients, the higher the quality of foods you consume, the better your body can maximize your fuel. Everybody is different, and depending on your health history, current health status and goals, your individual needs will vary.
Your macronutrient ratios are a piece of the equation (proteins, carbs and fats), but quality and source matter just as much
Too often, we tend to focus more on calories and macros, neglecting food variety and the micro-nutrients (the vitamins and minerals) that give the body what it needs to use its energy sources best.
Learn more about real food here
Quality foods for workout fuel include:
Meat and Poultry. Beef and lamb, but also pork, chicken, turkey, duck and wild game like venison, ostrich and eggs. Organic, pastured, grass-fed and/or free-range is always preferable.
Organ Meats (especially liver). The most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Learn more about the benefits of organ meats and how to include them, even if you don’t like them, in this post
Bone Broth. Balance your intake of muscle meats and organ meats with bone broths. Bone broths are rich in glycine, which is important in maintaining a healthy gut lining. No need to spend hours making your own, get ours here.
Wild-Caught Fish. Especially fatty fish like salmon, halibut, sardines, mackerel, and herring. Wild is preferable. Aim for 1-2 servings per week at least!
Starchy Tubers. Yams, sweet potatoes, yuca/manioc, winter squash, beets, carrots, plantains, parsnips, etc.
Non-starchy Vegetables. Cooked and raw. Especially dark leafy greens.
Fermented Vegetables and Fruits. Sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass, coconut kefir, etc. These are excellent for gut health.
Fresh Fruit. (1-2 servings/day). Especially berries and green tipped bananas.
Naturally Occurring Fats. Lard, beef tallow, coconut oil, duck fat, ghee from grass-fed cows, avocado oil and olive oil. (Get our fat guide here)
Olives, Avocados, and Coconut (including coconut milk-no additives, coconut butter, unsweet coconut flakes).
Sea Salt, Herbs & Spices.
Eat real food as much as possible – order it in if that’s easier and more convenient (check out the benefits of delivery in this post).
Pete’s Real Food uses only the highest quality, best sourced ingredients, carefully prepared and packaged for maximum nutrient retention – browse this week’s menus and order your favorites here >>>>>>
What about protein powders?
Protein powders are not essential, but they can help some meet their baseline protein requirements. Choose a digestible, anti-inflammatory powder, preferably naturally sourced and minimally processed as explained in this article.
Hydration is essential for fitness performance. As little as a 3% fluid reduction in the body can cause a 10% - 20% decrease in performance.
Adequate fluid intake can be easy to overlook. Thirst alone is not the first indicator of dehydration, and mindfulness around drinking water throughout the day is encouraged.
If you often find yourself hungry, especially between meals, or feeling fatigued or run down, it could be a sign your body needs more water. The same organ that triggers hunger (your hypothalamus) also triggers thirst.
Straight up water, or water infused with citrus or cucumber and mint, is best. In addition, add a pinch of sea salt to your water and season your food liberally for electrolyte boosting power (sodium, potassium, and magnesium).
Sports drinks are not essential unless you are training for intense athletic activity, sweating a lot or working out in a hot climate, to replace extra lost electrolytes and maintain proper fluid balance in the body. Coconut water or a simple drink made with lemon juice, water and some sea salt will support replenishing lost micronutrients.
Frequent exercise enthusiasts are at higher risk for impaired digestion, primarily because exercise is a stressor to the body.
While it is a positive stressor, all stress causes a rise in cortisol and a decrease in stomach acid (HCl) production.
Since optimal digestion happens in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state, elevated cortisol can impair or stall digestion, especially directly after your workout.
Supporting digestion using a soil based probiotic, consuming lots of vegetables, adding in fermented foods, including bone broth and supplementing with natural apple cider vinegar and digestive enzymes can be helpful.
Balancing pre and post-workout nutrition is a dynamic process that involves understanding your body's needs, tailoring meals to your exercise routine, and maintaining consistency. By paying attention to the composition of your meals, eating enough, incorporating essential nutrients, and staying hydrated, you can optimize your performance, support muscle recovery, and move closer to achieving your fitness goals. Individual variations exist, so listen to your body and adjust as needed. With a thoughtful approach to nutrition, you can maximize the benefits of your workouts and foster your long-term well-being.