Which meal is most important for an endurance athlete?

When it comes to maintaining good health or training to maximize your performance, consistency and balance of exercise plays a crucial role.  No fitness program will be successful without eating right.   Knowing when and what to eat before exercise and when and what to eat after exercise are important steps that can be taken to ensure you get the results you want.

Which is most important, nutrition before or after? The way I see it,  nutrition intake timing and amount after one activity is your nutrition before the next activity so they are both equally important.

Your nutrition choices before and after training can significantly influence the quality of your workout and your ability to recover and adapt. Google “energy products”, and you will find innumerable pre-workout foods, supplements, drinks, and techniques that promise to optimize your workout and to enhance your post-workout recovery. What and when you eat before exercise can give you the energy you need for your workout. What and when you eat after exercise can help aid in recovery and fuel your next workout. Learning what (varies with each person) and when to eat after exercise can be the difference between “effortless” success or a difficult learning experience and the only way to master it is with practice. 

Eat Before Exercise
Whether you are doing cardio or weight training, you need the fuel for your workout and that happens after the proceeding workout. Your pre-workout nutrition will top off the tanks, they won’t fix systemic problems or large deficits in either glycogen or hydration resulting from inadequate fueling following the proceeding race or performance. Pre-workout calories can help give you an energy boost and focus.  It is important to make “good” choices that work for you and increase energy rather then make you feel sluggish.  A mix of carbohydrates, 100-300 calories is recommended if you workout early morning before breakfast or a few hours after breakfast or lunch. How much you take depends on the the type of exercise, duration and intensity you are going to be doing. The best time to eat before exercise is about 90-120 minutes before you start. Discuss more with a local Registered Dietitian, get a sweat test,  to help find what is optimal for YOU and maximize your training and performance.

Eat After Exercise
I think the most important part of a successful fitness routine is what you eat afterwards. It doesn’t matter if it is a cardio session or weight training, energy, what is stored in your muscles as glycogen,  is the primary source of fuel for the central nervous system and the brain, so if it is not replaced, the body will start to break down muscle tissue and turn it into amino acids which will then be converted into fuel for the central nervous system and brain.

Another important reason to eat after exercise is to repair your muscles micro tears that are created from training. When your complete your workout your muscles are hungry and also go into repair phase. This is the best time to eat a mixture of carbohydrate and protein. Carbohydrate includes high fiber foods such as whole wheat pasta, rice, oatmeal, and most fruits are all good sources. You carbohydrate intake should be around 30-50 grams and as early as 5-10 minutes after your session end is when you should eat after exercise to replace stored muscle glycogen.  Protein, fish, meat, chicken, eggs, beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, will start the repair processes of the micro tears. Some great combinations of protein/carbohydrate meals include fish or chicken with potatoes or rice, or a protein shake with some fruit.

The shorter the time period between workouts, the more you need to prepare your post workout nutrition and have it ready to repair your current workout and fuel your next workout. Replenish your glycogen stores, nutritionally support recovery and adaptation, and ensure adequate hydration. Prioritize your post-workout nutrition habits over your immediate pre-workout choices.

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