The most crucial thing to know about your pre workout meal is that it becomes the calories and macronutrients that your body will use during the duration of your training session. Regardless of what form of exercise you partake in, at some point carbohydrates, proteins, and possibly even fats will be utilized. The American Dietetic Association and most other credible dietary sources recommend eating 1-3 hours prior to exercise to allow for proper digestion. Lean proteins such as poultry, some types of fish or seafood, and egg whites are best. Sticking with lean forms of protein is important because fattier choices will slow down the digestion process and may cause stomach cramps during the training session. For that same reason fiber consumption should be kept to a minimum as well. As for carbohydrates, going with mostly complex rather than simple carbs will cause your body to release glycogen more slowly into the bloodstream providing a constant source of readily available energy. Simple carbs will likely enter the bloodstream too quickly and be unavailable for use, too many simple carbs can cause a crash in energy in the middle of the workout. Whole grain bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and oatmeal are all great choices. I recommend trying different combinations of food to see what your body handles best. Once you have your pre workout meal dialed in be sure not to vary from it too much, especially before a competition. How much you should eat before a workout is dependent on factors such as the length of the training session and the degree of intensity. A good rule of thumb is that 20-30% of your daily caloric intake should come from your pre-workout meal.
I don’t want to say that post workout meals have taken the back burner, but I will say that its dominance in the overall discussion of how to properly recover from exercise has been dialed back in recent years. New research has shown that an adequate pre-workout meal can suffice for the majority of total calories needed to fuel a workout and also aid in the recovery process post exercise. While this may be true, it does not take away from the fact that a proper post workout meal is also imperative to get the most out of a training session and avoid feeling lethargic the following day. Right after exercise, especially high intensity training, insulin levels are very high. Insulin is a storage protein that is responsible for the control of blood sugar. During high intensity exercise our bodies use primarily carbohydrates from both our muscles and liver, and it is important to replenish those stores after training. Taking advantage of that short high insulin window is easily done but consuming high glycemic and simple forms of carbohydrates such as bananas, sugary sports drinks, and sweet potatoes. Along with simple carbohydrates, easily digestible forms of protein aid in protein synthesis (rebuilding of muscle tissue) that has been broken down during exercise. This is why a protein shake is a staple in any sport or gym community right after a game or hard workout. Low fat chocolate milk for those that can handle dairy has been proven to be an excellent choice for post workout nutrition to cover both carbohydrates and protein. Similar to pre-workout meals, fats should be avoided to allow any and all food to digest as quickly as possible. Timing for post-workout meals has been debated, but a good rule of thumb is the sooner the better. Choosing food options that are desirable immediately following exercise can be a tough task for some since some nausea from high intensity exercise may still linger after the workout is completed. Trial and error will determine what choices are best for you, and once you have it figured out, stick with it.