A friend and I made a plan to work out together last week at the gym; our whole day went in planning and coordinating our meeting time. At the gym, we planned an Interval circuit routine. Halfway into the routine I noticed her body was giving up; only her competitive streak kept her going. She was just putting in 50% of what she had into the workout. We worked out at 6pm and on asking what time she had eaten last, I got to know—1pm.
Sounds familiar? How many times have you reached the gym, only to discover that your body just does not support the planned workout routine? As a fitness professional, I have seen too many people unaware of the importance of fuelling up correctly before and after a workout. Pre- and post-nutrition are not just for professional athletes; if you want to get the maximum out of your workout, you need to eat the right way.
The average gym goer, clocking in an hour a day, four times a week, needs to look into their nutrition to avoid injuries and muscle soreness and enhance performance.
To begin with, a little training 101: When you work out, you break down muscle—to rebuild and repair the muscles, you need protein and amino acids. You need to plan your nutrition and eat the right protein at the right time. Muscle soreness is aggravated by a lack of correct nutrition.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), anyone who engages in a fitness activity for an hour a day would require a daily intake of 0.8-1g of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you lift weights and mix it up with some cardio, your requirement could go up to 1.2g per kilogram of body weight. So if you weigh 75kg and work out in the gym and perform even a basic split routine (concentrating on two body parts a day) and some cardio, you would need 75g of protein a day. And if your routine includes muscle hypertrophy (where you lift heavy weights to the point where you can’t lift them any more to bulk up), you would need almost 100g of protein a day. That does not mean that 100g chicken breast will give you 100g of protein; it gives just about 30g, while 100g of salmon provides 24g of protein. You would need to space out and plan your nutrition and eat the right protein at the right time.
Before the workout
A good pre-workout snack should consist of slow-release carbohydrates and some protein. Since the carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy and convert to glycogen (energy source for the body) stored in the muscles, timing their intake is key. If you plan to work out at 6pm, your lunch should be at 1pm because it takes about 4 hours for the body to digest a heavy meal. At 4-4.30pm eat a pre-workout meal of about 200 kcal, consisting mainly of carbohydrates and some protein.
Good pre-workout snacks include:
u Sweet potatoes; they help stabilize blood glucose levels, provide sustained release of energy, and are rich in antioxidants and magnesium.
u Oats and skimmed milk with some nuts and raisins; milk and nuts provide protein and the oats provide the necessary slow release of energy.
u Peanut butter sandwich on wholewheat bread.
u A fruit, ideally a banana, provides sustained release of energy along with essential minerals like potassium, which help in maintaining nerve and muscle function.
u If you haven’t managed to eat a pre-workout snack, try two large squares of dark chocolate 15 minutes before your workout. They give an instant pick-me-up feeling and are loaded with antioxidants.
If you exercise first thing in the morning, after 8-10 hours of fasting, your sugar levels are low and you might feel dizzy or faint during your workout. An ideal pre-workout morning snack would be a banana.
During the workout
Proper hydration during your workout is important; you should ideally have two-three glasses of water before your workout and take little sips at regular intervals throughout your session.
Know your sports drinks before you take them, because most of them are high-sugar drinks meant for endurance sports, where you need sustained energy and your body needs to constantly replenish the salts and minerals lost through sweat. So if you are planning a 5km run, or if you are going to play an hour of tennis, carry a bottle of a sports drink. Alternatively, during and after your workout, sip on coconut water—it is filled with minerals and essential salts which are lost during a workout.
For muscle preservation and injury prevention during weight routines, you could mix Glutamine powder in water or a protein drink. Glutamine is an amino acid, the building blocks of protein. Glutamine is naturally produced in the muscles and is distributed by the blood to the organs. If the body uses more glutamine than the muscles can make (that is, during times of stress), muscle wasting can occur. Glutamine also helps strengthen the immune system and during periods of high-intensity training, the body’s immune responses can be low.
After the workout
Ideal post-workout nutrition should consist of grade 1 protein, also called complete proteins, which consist of all 20 amino acids and some carbohydrate. Good sources of complete proteins are lean meats, dairy products and fish and soy. A session in the gym (not just for bodybuilders) could leave your muscles yearning for repair and rebuilding. Following intense exercise, the body is in a catabolic state, meaning it’s breaking down muscle to fuel itself. During this period, which lasts 30-60 minutes, the body optimizes its ability to replenish lost energy stores, namely muscle and liver glycogen, and begins repairing and building muscle tissue.
Use this window of opportunity by eating a grade 1 protein snack 30-60 minutes after your workout. Ideal post-workout snacks include 50g of chicken breast on wholewheat bread, or four-five egg whites with a wholewheat toast. Since the body absorbs liquids faster than solids, and may be easier to imbibe in an exhausted state, you should consider a good whey protein shake.
I have often noticed that women in the gym don’t take their pre- and post-workout nutrition as seriously as men. In fact, they often shy away from protein shakes thinking these will make them bulky. In reality, all a whey protein supplement does is top up your essential protein requirement. This is why protein supplements are also given to people recovering from a severe bout of illness.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are equally important since these play a major role in your body’s ability to build, repair, protect and maintain tissue, including muscle and connective tissues. All nuts, seeds and fish contain EFAs, and provide a high-protein snack along with the properties of increasing the good cholesterol in the blood. A handful of plain almonds is only 120 calories, and is great for you.
As a general rule for people who train or go to the gym, aim to eat six-eight small meals a day to keep blood sugar levels stable. Eat breakfast, the most important meal to kick-start your metabolism. If increase in muscle size is your goal, then add a protein shake at this time too. During the day, snack on fruits, nuts, low-fat yogurt, sprouts and coconut water. Make sure you add a serving of protein at lunch—soy protein is a good option for vegetarians, and it is the only plant protein to be termed grade 1. Drink green tea through the day to flush out toxins.
Sumaya Dalmia is a wellness consultant, fitness expert and owner of SD ACTIVE, a personal training studio in New Delhi.
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The best food items for those who want to work out the right way
Breakfast: Oats, skimmed milk, nuts and seeds, eggs, wholewheat or multigrain breads
Lunch: A serving of slow-release cereal starch like brown rice or wholewheat ‘chapati’ or quinoa, 1 serving of protein (100g), 20g curd and two cups of vegetables, including greens
Dinner: Grade 1 protein 100-150g (chicken, fish, lean turkey, soy) with vegetables
Snacks: Yogurt, nuts and seeds, prunes, coconut water, vegetable juice, low-fat dairy cheese
Best protein foods: Lean chicken, fish, eggs, lean turkey, tuna, soy
Vegetarian proteins: Soy, whey protein, low-fat dairy products, quinoa nuts and seeds, lentils and pulses and beans
Best cereal starches: Quinoa, oats/oat bran, wholewheat products/wheat bran, rye, brown rice
Vegetables to choose from: Broccoli, edamame, spinach, kale.
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