A useful guide for what to eat, before, during and after exercise
Looking for the best cycling fitness tips to improve performance, drop body fat and gain lean muscle? Look no further. This post will teach you what to eat before, during and after for your specific goals.
Just how important is workout nutrition anyway? does eating certain things, at certain times of the day improve performance and help to increase lean muscle whilst losing body fat and if so what should you eat before, during and after exercise?
I get these questions all the time in my working day, so I thought it might be a good idea to have a look at the science and how it relates to a keen cycling enthusiast (that would be me) that trains 3-4 times a week and averaging around 8 hours in the saddle.
Let me clarify:
By eating a well planned meal 1-2 hours before exercise and another well planned meal within 1-2 hours after exercise, most people can meet their workout nutrition needs without anything else.
That is to say:
If you’re a healthy person that exercises regularly, you probably don’t need special workout nutrition strategies.
But hey, these are ‘fit body cyclist’ we are talking about here, an endurance athlete. You train for high level competition, you log a lot of high intensity miles/kilometers each week, for you carbohydrate and calorie needs are likely higher. You could add a protein+carbohydrate drink during your training.
Average people: focus on food quality and quantity
- If you are exercising for general health and fitness;
- If your goals are more modest: and/or
- you don’t have unique physiological needs…
…. then you probably don’t need any particular workout nutrition strategies
- sorting out nutrition deficiencies
- making sure your portions are the right size
- Starting to eat right for your body type
Considerations for fit body cyclist
We can take a look at whats happening around the pre-exercise, during the exercise and post-exercise periods.
Pre-exercise nutrition needs
What and when you eat before exercise can make a big impact to your performance and recovery.
In 3 hours before your workout, you’ll want to ensure you eat something to
- sustain energy
- boost performance
- preserve muscle mass and
- speed recovery
There are a few ways you can make sure you are getting a sufficient amount
Protein before exercise
Eating some protein in a few hours before exercise
Can help you maintain your muscle mass. That’s important if you are trying to improve health, body composition or performance.
Carbs before exercise
- Fuels your training and helps with recovery. It is well understood that carbs are advisable for long duration (over 2 hours) exercise, but carbs in enhance short term high intensity training too.
- Preserves muscle and liver glycogen, this tells the old grey matter that you are well fed and helps increase muscle retention.
- Stimulates the release of insulin when combined with protein this improves protein synthesis and prevents protein breakdown. A good reason why a mixed meal is a great idea.
Fats before exercise
- Don’t really play a part in fueling performance, carbs are on top of that!
- Do help to slow digestion this maintains blood glucose and insulin levels and keeps you on a even keel
- provide some vitamins and minerals very important in all of our diets
During-exercise nutrition needs
What you eat during exercise is only important for specific circumstances and the primary priority here would be hydration. However as a cyclist it is not unusual to be out on a ride for 4 hours.
Goals for nutrition during exercise
- Stay hydrated
- provide immediate fuel
- boost performance
- Preserve muscle and
- Improve recovery
Eating protein during exercise
- Helps to prevent muscle breakdown This can lead to improved recovery and greater adaption to training over the long term. And this is especially true if it has been more than 3 hours since your last meal. You only need a small amount of protein to control protein breakdown – around 15 grams per hour. If your the type of person that likes to train on an empty stomach, then 10-15 grams of BCAA’s (branched-chain amino acids ) during training can help.
- Is only really necessary for some people: Athletes doing long bouts of intense training, or multiple daily training sessions.
Carbs during exercise
- provides an immediate fuel source. This helps boost performance and facilitate faster recovery. It helps keep our stress hormone cortisol down and beneficial hormones up.
- Is only beneficial in certain circumstances: endurance cycling is one of them, yeah!
How much carbs should you eat?
The maximum amount of carbohydrates that can be digested/absorbed during exercise is 60 -70 grams per hour.
However if you include protein in the mix, you can achieve the same endurance benefits with only 30-45 grams of carbohydrate per hour. The protein also protects against muscle breakdown so it’s typically a good idea to add some.
Fats during exercise
Eating fats before and after exercise can be a great idea, but you should try to avoid fats during exercise. mainly because fats can be more difficult to digest.
Post-exercise nutrition needs
Eating protein after exercise prevents protein breakdown and stimulates synthesis, leading to increased or maintained muscle tissue. So it’s a great strategy for better recovery, adaption and performance.
Recent research tells us that there is no real evidence that protein powders, especially the fast-digesting kind, are any better than whole food protein after training.
That’s not to say that they are any worse, but just means you can choose any kind of protein for your post workout meal, happy days!
Any high quality complete protein should do the job, as long as you eat enough. That means about 40-60 grams for men(or 2 palms) and 20-30 grams for women (1 palm)
Carbs after exercise
Another area where the science has moved on is the thought process that there was a need for quick release carbs and sugar to restore liver and muscle glycogen as fast as possible after a workout.
As it stands a blend of minimally processed whole food carbohydrates, along with some fruit (to better restore or maintain liver glycogen) is actually a better choice.
Fat after exercise
For the most part we are of the opinion that we should avoid fats after exercise as they may slow the digestion and the absorption of nutrients.
While this may be true in most cases, it’s also irrelevant. The science has also shown us that the speed of digestion of proteins and carbs is not as important as once was thought. The same is true of fats.
I guess you could say that there is no perfect pre and post exercise fueling regime for everyone and for most of us that don’t have high level competition in the near future a leaning towards meals containing a combination of high quality proteins, high quality carbs, healthy fats and some fruit and vegetables will work really well.
You can eat solid foods or drink smoothies. The amount of each macro nutrient can vary depending on your needs as well as personal preferences and tolerances.
In terms of timing, you have about one to two hours either side of training to get maximal benefit.
And according to the most recent data, the total amount of protein and carbohydrate consumed over the course of the day is far more important to lean mass gain, fat loss and performance improvements than any specific nutrient timing strategy.
So enjoy your cycling and enjoy your meals!