When to eat and what to eat are constant questions that affect your fitness performance, weight loss / gain goals, as well as overall health. I was recently challenged with a question by email that asked, "What should I eat/drink before, during, and after my workout? My goal is to perform better in my running, swimming, PT test and following spec ops training." The answer will vary depending on your goal, but understanding After, Before, During (ABD's) of Workout Nutrition will better help all groups reach their fitness goals. I saw the" ABD's of Recovery Nutrition" at a recent Mid-Atlantic NSCA Regional conference given by Paul Moore, MS, RD, CSCS of Fitness4 Pros and thought it was a brilliant way to discuss nutrition throughout the training cycle.
This understanding of what foods / drinks work best for performance gains requires a constant search for the individual. Here are some suggestions that will help you figure out WHAT to eat, WHEN to eat, as it all depends on your individual likes / dislikes and goals.
For the Performance Fitness Goal: If you are preparing to ace a fitness test, compete in a race, or another athletic event, sports nutrition is vital to your performance. You have to experiment with immediate energy of carbohydrates of fruits, juices, sports drinks, protein and fat sources to find what works best for you. Keep track of what and how much you ate and drank, and how you slept that night on your best performance days. Often these in combination will set you on an optimal performance path. Repeating those optimal performance days is obviously your goal to make it through tough training programs and fitness entrance testing. You may even be exercising for more than one session per day and for several hours a day. If so, you really need to eat / hydrate well and usually larger quantities of quality food will help you recover from the multiple workouts per day.
AFTER WORKOUT: This could be a few of your regularly scheduled meals depending upon the time of day you choose to work out. The fitness performance group needs to immediately focus on carbohydrate replacement as well as protein consumption for both glycogen stores and muscle repair / growth for the next workout respectively. Find what carbohydrates and proteins work best for you but I would make sure that these meals are not only a post workout meal but also a PRE-workout meal for the next workout later in the day or early the following day. Supplements tend to come into play during the post workout nutrition game. I am not personally into supplementing daily other than some omega 3 and 6 capsules and some multi-vitamins rich in all the B vitamins especially. For a quick fix and in replacement of food in a pinch, I will take some whey protein powder with some chocolate milk. See list below of quality carbs / protein sources that work great as post workout meal ideas.
BEFORE WORKOUT: If you are training for long, tough training programs coupled with a high intensity effort for testing your maximums in calisthenics, miles of running, and hundreds of yards of swimming, you need to eat a majority of carbohydrates no less than 45-60 minutes prior to exercise sessions. Choose low fiber, low fat, low/medium on the glycemic index for immediate and sustainable carbohydrate energy. I personally like baby carrots, bananas, and apples for performance testing pre-workout snacks. In fact, many of my weekly 4 mile timed beach runs and 2 mile ocean swims at SEAL training were preceded with these fruits / vegetables. I often joke that baby carrots and apples helped me get through SEAL training.
DURING WORKOUT: Unless you are working out for extended periods of time to get used to 8-10 hours of training at Special Operations School, food intake during normal 1-2 hour workouts is not needed. However, during high intensity training off and on throughout the day, you should be eating a higher carbohydrate diet but mixed with some light protein snacks as well. The carbs are there to fuel you through the rest of the workout day and the protein comes in to assist with added calories but to also help you recover when the day/long workout is complete. Consider this an endurance athlete approach to training. You need to be able to sustain high repetitions of body weight movements, some strength /power for moving heavier team building objects, and endurance as well as the calories to handle many miles of running, rucking, or swimming.
Great ideas are:
Carbohydrate Options: Multi grain breads and pastas, cereals, vegetables (romaine lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, carrots), fruits, (tomatoes, strawberries, apples, berries, oranges, grapes, and bananas ) make great carbohydrates for energy. However, if you need to add some calories for either weight gain or weight maintenance due to high calorie burn rates, add in a limited amount of post meal milk shakes, or a great mix of both carbs / protein is chocolate milk.
Protein Options: Meats, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, almonds, beans, milk, milk shakes with additional whey protein powder (optional), peanut butter. I personally eat brown rice and lima beans in between workouts during snack time, or have a few servings with a main course of meat or fish for a good balance of plant and animal protein.
Fat Options: Fish, nuts, olive oils, omega 3 fortified products (milk, margarine, peanut butter). Typically, I get most of these fats from nuts and fish, but I also supplement the omega 3 fatty acids most important to longevity / healthy recovery.
The ABD's of HYDRATION: Not only does the performance group need to super hydrate due to hard workouts especially during excessively sweaty workouts, but you need to add electrolytes (sodium potassium, magnesium, calcium as well. So foods / drinks rich in many of these elements are essential to your recovery from significant water / electrolyte loss. Personally, if I can wring out my shirt after a workout, I will add more of these "salts" into my post exercise diet. Sure you can add sports drinks but stay away from the "energy" drinks that are loaded with caffeine as these are not what you need. Sports drinks with sodium, potassium, carbohydrates (sugar) are your best bet for hydration during and after hard sweaty exercise. But bananas and water are also sufficient in most cases. Here are some ideas for hydration:
- After Workouts - One of my favorite post exercise snacks is a can of chicken noodle soup (Campbells Noodle O's) as it is loaded with potassium, sodium, carbs, protein as well. In fact it has about 3-4 times the potassium of a banana and about 5-6 times the potassium of Gatorade. If you are not sweating much nor in arid environment, water will be enough to hydrate you.
- Before workouts, do not drink too much if you are doing significant running as the bouncing will potentially cause cramping.
- During workouts, sip water or carbohydrate / electrolyte mix every 10-15 minutes to maintain high intensity performance training.
- A ballpark equation for daily consumption of liquids for highly active person is: 50-75% body weight in lbs = oz per day of H2O
Finding the right mix of carbohydrates, protein, fats, electrolytes and water all depend on your age, sex, weight, activity level, and goals. Every day you have a killer good workout / test scores and feel great afterwards, make a note of everything you did that day. Very often it is the formula that works best for you and your fitness performance goals.
Good luck with your nutrition / performance fitness program and I hope you see improvement soon. Workouts can be easily obtained at the Military.com Fitness Ebook Store. Send me an email and I may post it up as an article next week. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.