Hey guys, I know you’ve been hammered with recovery posts lately, but my job here today is to pick up from what was said in the last few weeks and talk about nutrition to maximize not only performance but also recovery. I am aware it is a very vast subject so I will try my best to make it practical and relatable.
When we think about nutrition for recovery and performance, we tend to focus on the food we eat right before, during, and after working out. However, today I am going to take a broader approach to things and look at nutrition throughout the day (emphasizing pre-workout meals), and not simply talk about the meals around those 2-3 hours of the day that we go to the gym.
I organized this post into several sub-topics for the purpose of organization and easiness of reading. They are in no particular order; I consider them all equally important.
1. Overall caloric consumption and macro distribution. This is where I see most of the mistakes being made, even from people that have the best intentions of following a strict dietary regimen. Problem number 1 that is commonly seen is undereating. This is mostly a mistake made by women when they are trying to lose weight; I see them dropping their caloric intake way below the levels needed, leading to significant decrease in their metabolism. The lower your metabolism, the less calories your body gets used to having and using, and the harder it gets to be in a caloric deficit and actually lose weight. There are plenty of tools available that can help you estimate your BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate (which is the bare minimum amount of calories your body needs to exist) and to calculate your TDEE – Total Daily Energy Expenditure (which estimates how many calories you need to consume according to your age, gender, weight, height, and activity level). Feel free to look some of these up and get a rough idea of how much you should be eating. From there, and if you are looking to track your meals and your daily caloric intake for a specific goal, make sure you aren’t eating any more than 300-400 calories below or above (depending on your goal) the amount you need becasue it is not only unsustainable but can also be unhealthy.
Problem number 2 is cutting out carbs, and I will go into more details about the importance of carbs further ahead, in particular around workouts. I personally do not advocate for low carb or ketogenic diets as I believe carbohydrates are super important to not only maintain muscle mass and physical performance but also to provide energy to our brains.
2. The pre-workout meal. Most of the workouts we do in crossfit tend to be high in intensity and relatively short in duration, which means that the most important and most used macronutrient for these kinds of workouts is carbohydrates. For this exact reason, it is crucial to eat enough carbs before going into the gym, in order to allow you blood and your muscles to have readily available sugars for energy. The second most important nutrient is protein, and the importance of consuming this one prior to exercising is to minimize the amount of protein breakdown that occurs as we workout. The timing of this meal can vary according to its size and how your body reacts to different foods, but it should not be any longer than 2-2.5 hours before exercising. Regardless of the timing though, an ideal pre-workout meal should include medium to slow-digesting carbohydrates such as oats or whole grain bread/rice, as well as protein from sources such as eggs, milk, yogurt, or a meat of your choice. Fats are known to slow down the digestion of the other two macronutrients so they can be detrimental in this particular context for some people. In terms of specific amounts it is hard to tell, and it depends on how long prior to the gym you eat; the best way to figure it out, unfortunately, is by trial and error. I personally find a bowl of porridge with milk about an hour before the gym to be a perfect pre-workout meal.
3. The post-workout meal. The main focus here is to replenish fluids and glycogen (carbohydrate) stores, as well as to maximize protein synthesis. You might have heard that immediately after we exercise we can much more readily absorb nutrients to maximize recovery. This is only somehow accurate, and it is way more important for athletes that train more than once a day, as they need to optimize their recovery between sessions. For most of us that train once daily, we should make sure to replenish carbs, proteins and fluids within a couple hours since the end of our workout; whether that means going home and have dinner, or having a protein shake with a piece of fruit still at the gym, that is completely up to you and your preferences. The carbs are important to replenish the glycogen stores we have in our muscles and liver, and they also allow a hormone called insulin to increase in the body and maximize the synthesis of protein in your muscles. The protein we consume post workout will provide our muscles with amino acids, which are the building blocks for protein and muscle. And finally, don’t forget to replenish the fluids you may have lost during the workout, especially in the odd hot and sweaty summer days. In terms of amounts, some recommendations are of about 20 grams of protein (most protein shakes have 20-25grams) with a ratio of carbohydrates-to-protein of 2:1.
4. Alcohol. This is a tough subject to approach, especially among Irish people. We all like a good night out drinking, and it is totally okay to enjoy these occasionally. However, what I want to emphasize today is the effect the alcohol has on your body and on your recovery, not only on the night you drink it, but also during the days that follow it. No one can spend a weekend drinking and expect to come to the gym on Monday and perform at their best, even with that magical rest day on Sunday when they allow their muscles to rest. Just think about it: maybe you went on a mad one Saturday night, grabbed that post-drinking McDonald’s/ Domino’s pizza, went to sleep at 4am and slept until noon. You woke up slightly hangover and unable to eat until 6 or 7pm that day, and when you did eat you couldn’t fathom the idea of eating something healthy like chicken and broccoli; instead, you got some greasy and delicious takeaway. Monday arrives and you go back to the gym but you just can’t help to feel weak and not fully recovered. This happens because not only because of the alcohol, but also because of the poor nutrition you gave your body in that one day of the week that you have to rest and allow your body to properly replenish its storages. Nutrition during rest days are super important to maximize your recovery and, subsequently, maximize your performance in the days after. I am by no way judging anyone for going out on a mad one; I do it too occasionally…and regret it the day after many of the times.
5. The secret magic diet for success. Consistency! Sorry to ruin your hopes and dreams but I’m sure you are all aware of this by now. A consistent and balanced diet is the best way to achieve your gym goals and to make you feel better on a daily basis. This entails a diet where most foods do not come of out of a package, that allows you to get enough macronutrients as well as minerals and vitamins, and that limits the intake of refined sugars.
Supplementation is another very long topic that I wasn’t able to add to this post without putting you guys to sleep while reading it. I will make sure to write another post about those in the near future.
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