This Is What A Sports Nutritionist Eats Before And After A Workout

Nutritionist During Workout

Do you ever find yourself getting mixed answers about what to eat before and after a workout?

Person A: “You should have a protein shake within 30 minutes or it won’t count!”
Person B: “Drink your protein shake before you hit the gym!”

You: wait whaa—?

Knowing what to eat before and after a workout is probably one of the biggest areas of confusion I’ve come across in the field of health and wellness, and it’s still something I hear different answers to amongst the blogosphere, friends and personal trainers. This week I decided to ask someone who would have a better idea than most – introducing Maya Eid, the resident Nutritionist at Fit Factory Fitness in Toronto. Not only is this girl a bundle of energy and sunshine, but she’s got a killer figure and glowing skin. Clearly, she’s doing something right and I want to learn! (and share with all of you, dear readers).

Read on and enjoy the quick Q&A session I had with Maya about everything the average person needs to know about sports nutrition. Note: I say “average” because this is relevant to the busy professional who hits the gym 2 or 3 times per week, and not a ballerina, professional bodybuilder or athlete who would have very specific requirements!

So Maya, tell me, were you always interested in fitness?

I’ve always been very active, but I actually don’t come from the world of sports or fitness at all! I was a graphic designer by trade while I pursued Holistic Nutrition part-time in the evenings purely out of passion. Funnily enough, the two years where I was juggling both holistic nutrition and my 9-5 gig as a graphic designer is when I felt the least healthy. Even though I was eating well, I was sitting at a desk for most of the day and I didn’t feel energized.

That’s when it hit me – food is simply not enough. And vice versa. Both food and exercise have to coexist to feel at your best. The moment I started giving more priority to exercise I found that it helped with my energy, metabolism and even my hormones.

Do you ever find yourself getting mixed answers about what to eat before and after a workout?

I work out 4-5 times per week with 1-2 active rest days. I started out with only high-intensity bootcamps, but then later on I discovered that my body responded better with slower paced strength training sessions with weights and now I only do intense bootcamps maybe one to two times per week.

For the active rest days, I enjoy walking, yoga, and I’m almost always using my bike to help me run errands around the city.  

Alright, let’s get right into the money question: what should you eat before a workout?

I’m sorry to be a buzzkill, but it’s as simple as “eat a balanced meal”. I eat a simple meal that won’t weigh me down about 60-90 minutes before heading for a workout. Make sure to include carbs to fuel your workout and protein to help preserve your muscle tissue.

Since I tend to workout in the late afternoon or evening, my pre-workout meal i.e. lunch or dinner, is something light and simple like baked salmon with avocado and sautéed greens.

What should you eat after a workout?

Here it is again: eat a proper meal within 60-90 minutes. I can’t stress enough that eating a real meal after a workout is the best thing you can do. People feel like it can’t be that simple or that there must be some other “hack” that’s better, but it really is that straightforward. You need carbs to restore your glycogen stores and protein for muscle recovery, and there’s no better place to get that than food.

If you don’t have time for or don’t want to eat a proper meal, then eat an egg or two plus some carbs e.g. a piece of fruit. If you need something to tide you over before your meal, drink a whey protein shake 30 minutes after a workout as it helps stimulate muscle growth. Keep in mind that a whey protein can help you get better results and faster, but it’s not necessary.

What do you think about working out on an empty stomach?

I’ve seen studies and I’ve had a few of my clients experience increased fat loss while training fasted, but that doesn’t mean anyone and everyone would yield the same results.

That being said, it can also depend on what you ate the night before. If you ate a big bowl of pasta, you’ll have enough glucose stores to take you through the workout the next morning. If you didn’t eat much the night before, you’ll struggle to have enough energy to get the most out of your workout, and will have trouble with recovery.

Should your pre-workout meal be different depending on the type of workout e.g. cardio vs. strength?

A combination of carbs, protein and fat is ideal for both, but I would lean towards slow-digesting carbs (like steel cut oats) for cardio, and a quicker hit of glucose for weight training (like an apple with nut butter and some yogurt).

Is it bad to eat carbs before bed? Or is that just a myth?

Yes, this is a myth! Your total quantity of carbs in a day matters, not whether you ate it at night or in the afternoon. We tend to demonize carbs a lot in the fitness world, I’ve seen some people do wonders when I give them the permission to add another 50 grams of carbs – they have more energy to push themselves harder at the gym to help them develop more lean muscle..

Remember, it’s the TYPE of carbs that matter, not whether you ate a banana at night.

Lastly, it also depends on the person and their activity level. Someone who is overall more sedentary doesn’t require that many carbs, but someone who works out everyday could benefit from a higher carb allowance.

So then what do you think about the ketogenic diet? How can you do low-carb while still having enough energy to workout?

I personally don’t have too much experience with this, but I know that there are ways to hack it. You can simply save your carb allowance for before and after a workout, and make the rest of your meals more high protein and fat.

To be honest, going very low carb hasn’t worked very well for my clients. And that’s mostly due to their lifestyle. I’m sure people can make it work, but if you’re someone who wants to go out drinking on the weekend, or indulge in a cheat meal or two, it’s difficult to sustain being in ketosis all the time. At the end of the day, what you want to aim for is consistency, and a balanced approach is the best way to get there.

Hmm…this sounds a lot like flexible dieting. What are your thoughts on #IIFYM and tracking your macros?

I find that flexible dieting is far more sustainable than the ketogenic diet, since you don’t have to be so restrictive with your diet. In particular, I find it works really well for anyone who has a history of eating disorders, trying different diets and binge eating.

Of course, this comes with the caveat that you should still know what you are intolerant to, and what works well with your digestion. Flexible dieting doesn’t mean eating whatever you want, you’ll have to eat nutrient-dense foods to hit your macros, but it will give you more flexibility to let loose without losing results.

What mistakes do you see people making when trying to lose weight?

People don’t eat enough out of fear of gaining weight, and then they get light-headed during workouts or they can’t recover properly. Often they’re under-eating carbs or protein, or both.

I also find that women in particular can overdo high-intensity workouts (like bootcamps or HIIT), which puts a lot of stress on the body. Low-impact strength training is amazing for building muscle, changing your body composition (leaning out) and also balancing your hormones, so I wish more women recognized its importance.

How would someone know if they’re over-exercising?

You’ll know this is the case if you’re a) not recovering properly; b) feeling more tired instead of energized; c) not seeing results/plateauing.

Yeah I seem to have the opposite problem. How do you motivate yourself when you don’t want to workout?

There’s 3 things that make a big difference for me:

  1. Mindset
    I think about how alive I feel after a workout. The only way to remove that stagnation and feeling of lethargy is to move your body! My internal dialogue sounds something like this: “If I’m tired I can continue feeling more tired or I can do something about it to get more energy…okay off to the gym!”
  2. Community
    I get excited about going to a place like Fit Factory Fitness because I actually have friends there who I work out with! We all motivate and support one another and succeed together. If you’re not part of a gym or class that has a strong sense of community, then try to go with your partner or workout buddy. Sometimes having that one other person holding you accountable (and making it more fun) makes all the difference!
  3. Enjoy what you do
    You have to make it fun or enjoy your workout (whether it’s dance, weight lifting or a sport), otherwise you won’t stay consistent.

Any other words of wisdom to leave us with?

Consistency is key – it doesn’t have to be the same type of workout all the time, but you have to be consistent with moving your body on a regular basis.

Also, try to have fun with the whole process! Try different workouts, challenge your body in different ways, feed your body a variety of food, and get creative and inspired in the kitchen.

And lastly, eat your veggies!

About Alina

I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
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