Do you ever feel like you struggle to know how to complement your diet to your workouts? I can relate, and know how challenging it can be to synthesize all of the conflicting information on what and how much to eat around workouts. It wasn't until I became a practicing sports dietitian that I truly was able to understand this on a deeper level.
Here's a few beneficial tips that will help you make the most out of your workouts!
1. Determine what your workout metabolic demands are
For purposes of simplicity, we will categorize physical activity into 2 categories:
a) Glycolytic workouts- high intensity workouts such as circuit training, CrossFit or workouts where limited oxygen is present for an extended period of time
b) Aerobic workouts- low to moderate intensity workouts such as running or cycling, where you can hold a conversation while exercising
2. Every day should not look the same!
Matching your above workout type to your nutritional intake is extremely helpful in not only maximizing the physical improvements from your workouts (i.e. building strength, burning body fat, etc.), but it can also help improve body composition. Glycolytic workouts should always be paired with ample carbohydrate intake. Aerobic workouts should be paired with a lower carbohydrate intake. Focus on obtaining consistent protein and fat intake, regardless of the workout type. How to do this: on glycolytic days, add 2-3 servings of a starch (1 serving starch = 1/2 cup fist) to your meal at all meals. On aerobic days, add only 1 serving of a starch to each meal.
3. Don't fear carbohydrates!
Carbohydrate intake is essential to high intensity activity. Carbohydrate is much more efficient of a fuel source and easier to digest than consuming a high protein or high fat meal/snack prior to a workout. If your goal is weight loss, don't completely omit the carbohydrates here, just simply reduce the quantity. Some people believe that if they restrict carbohydrate intake this will force their body into burning body fat for energy. Unfortunately this is dependent off your workout's metabolic demands (see #1). If carbohydrate is not present, your body will make it available through breaking down muscle protein stores. If your goal is body fat loss or increased metabolism, the last thing you want is to burn muscle protein stores- muscle is extremely supportive of metabolism! Prevent this and support energy production during your workout by consuming carbohydrates on glycolytic workout days.
4. Consume a high-leucine protein source post-workout, if goal is hypertrophy or immediate repair
Are you working to gain muscle? If so, consuming a fast digesting liquid protein source (i.e. whey or brown rice+pea protein) will help with feeding your muscles the nutrients they need to activate muscle growth and repair. If muscle maintenance or growth are not your ultimate goals, consuming a meal that contains protein within 1-2 hours post-workout is sufficient to still ensure you are supporting your body's metabolic needs.
5. Is carbohydrate needed with your protein source post-workout?
It depends! If you have an athletic performance the following day such as a race/competition or extremely tough workout, then yes, carbohydrate should be ingested with your protein source post-workout the day prior. If you do not plan to workout the following day, or your workout will not be anything of incredible strain, consuming only a protein source is sufficient to still support muscle repair and/or growth.
I hope this helps in helping you best understand how to fuel your body to your workout needs! Please drop any questions below and I will be happy to answer them.