Clients and other fitness enthusiasts often ask me for guidance on what and when to eat throughout the day to optimize their fitness journeys. Solid nutrient intake and timing can both maximize performance in the gym, and aid in recovery between workouts.
What calories are made of:
Having a fundamental understanding of the three main macronutrients can greatly demystify the particulars of eating well. Keeping this as simple as humanly possible, let's nerd out on macros!
Often vilified in fad diets, "carbs" are actually an important source of energy before working out. When engaging in strenuous activity such as weight-lifting, glycogen stores in the muscles and liver are your body's primary source of energy. When these stores become depleted, your ability to perform drastically decreases, also putting you at risk of headache, nausea, and light-headedness. Consuming a healthy serving (.5-.75 cups) of slow-absorbing, unprocessed carbs, such as oatmeal, brown rice, or any other whole grain before a workout can ensure that you don't pass out or feel thrashed before your workout is over. Carbs also provide fiber, which plays an important role in keeping things moving, if you know what I mean! Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, and are a great way to add volume to meals.
Rule of thumb: Consume a serving of slow-burn carbohydrates, such as oats or brown rice, 60-90 minutes before working out.
Not just for jocks and meatheads, protein is a critical component of a balanced diet. Protein is responsible for repairing muscle tissue that gets damaged when we place stress on the fibers. Weight lifting is nothing more than tearing up muscle, and rebuilding it to be stronger. Protein is NOT an energy source, except in the event of extreme starvation. It simply ensures that we build strength and appropriately repair muscle so that it does not become damaged or injured. Ingesting 30-40 grams of protein within 30 minutes of working out can also help you evade muscle soreness and fatigue, so always make sure your body has an adequate source. Like carbohydrates, protein weighs in at 4 calories per gram.
Rule of thumb: Consume 30-40g of protein within 30 minutes of working out, adding another serving of carbs is great too!
For decades, fat has been both vilified and glorified by the diet industry. The truth is, fat is neither a villain nor a "superfood" to be over-consumed with the caveat "as long as it's healthy fat!" It's just another macronutrient. Fat plays an important role in providing energy to the body during low-intensity exercise, like walking or jogging. But because nutrient absorption is highest immediately after exercise, it's best to limit fat consumption during this time. Fat carries 9 calories per gram, so it is the easiest to over-consume, so ensure that a serving is no more than the size of a thumb per meal.
Rule of thumb: Consume no more than a thumb-sized portion of fat with every meal, ensuring that fat consumption immediately post-workout is limited.
For more information, and a great, easy to understand method on what portion sizes of carbs, proteins and fats to eat to meet your goals, check out Precision Nutrition's macro calculator. This is, hands-down, the easiest tool I've found to calculate and adhere to a plan that will get you where you're going, without frustration and obsession. Happy eating!