Getting your pre- and post-workout meals right is essential is you want to build muscle and boost metabolism. Effective muscle building is as much about and eating the right meals (and rest) as it is about curling weights at home or in the gym. After all, you are what you eat and if you want to be made of muscle, you might want to eat food that's good for muscle building.
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Timing is key and knowing your pre- and post-workout meal plan, a.k.a. what foods to eat before the pump and what foods will aid muscle regeneration and growth after the 'pump', is crucial. We asked Rebecca Williams, Nutrition Manager at Huel (opens in new tab) shares her top six tips on how to make sure you’re giving your body everything it needs pre- and post-workout.
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Rebecca likes to make a distinction between the two different types of pre-workout meals: "The first is the main meal you eat in the hours before you work out, which is typically breakfast or lunch. The second is a snack that you eat around 30 minutes before your workout", she explains.
As for what to eat in these times, she recommends having some 'starchy carbohydrates' two hours before the workout to let your body break down the food and start circulating glucose in the bloodstream which will be used by the muscles later. "This will help you to avoid low blood sugar levels during exercise which in turn can lead to fatigue and lightheadedness", she adds.
There are some types of food you should avoid too. Avoid eating anything high in fibre, fat and – this might surprise some – protein as all of these require time to digest and that will divert blood from where it needs to be (in the muscles) into the guts.
As with any nutritional advice, you should take into account what your body is capable as it will have a significant impact on your performance. As Rebecca explains, "For example, for some people it might be ideal to have a large bowl of porridge two to three hours before an endurance event. For others, a large meal before working out might make them feel nauseous. Make sure you’re listening to your body and eating what’s right for you."
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A good post-workout meal can not only accelerate muscle recovery but it can set you up for the next workout too. According to Rebecca, "there are three main ‘R’s to consider post exercise; rehydrate, replenish and rebuild."
[Rehydrate] Understandably, you lose plenty of water through sweating and increased respiration during workouts. "Try to sip water over during the hours after your workout, rather than drinking a large volume right after you finish your exercise", Rebecca goes on, "If you drink water too quickly post-exercise it’s more likely that you will pass it as urine, rather than it being absorbed."
[Replenish] "It’s crucial to replenish your carbohydrate stores – otherwise known as glucose – post-workout", emphasises Rebecca. Probably you've heard this before but you need to supply your body with at least some protein post-workout to help 'rebuild' your muscles. This can be in the form of a meal that includes a source of protein such as meat, dairy or plant-based proteins such as brown rice and quinoa. Rebecca also recommends Huel Powder v3.0 (opens in new tab) (of course) as a "great option to provide carbohydrates and protein, as well as being a source of hydration because you add water to make your meal."
[Rebuild] Especially when you undergo strenuous resistance training, your muscles get 'damaged' as microscopic tears appear on the muscle fibre. Protein can help repair these tears and make the muscle bigger as it patches up the holes, figuratively speaking. As Rebecca explains, "Protein provides essential amino acids which are the building blocks of muscle, it's these amino acids which allow mussels to rebuild and adapt following a training stimulus."
It's recommended to take protein and carbohydrates as well after workouts: "The co-ingestion of protein and carbohydrates together in a meal, will also help to increase the rate of muscle glycogen storage in short term recovery, it can decrease DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and can also help to increase muscle protein synthesis (making new muscle)", Rebecca concludes.
This is part of T3's Fit for 2021 programme, which will be running throughout January. We aim to bring you tips on diet, lifestyle and exercise that will help you shape up for what is certain to be a difficult year. One thing we can guarantee: it WILL be better than last year. And hopefully we'll help you get the most out of it.