Fitness experts around the world know well that simply going to the gym is half the battle in maintaining a healthy body and physique. What is the point in having a great workout and burning those calories, only to pick up a McDonalds on the way home? At the same time, how can you expect your muscles to grow and form if you punish them with a hefty workout, and then don’t give them the protein they desperately need to repair themselves?
Correct eating and nutrition is a huge part of going to the gym. Not doing so makes it nigh-on-impossible to achieve your fitness goals. So what should you be eating and when should you be eating it to support your fitness and exercise efforts?
What you should be eating is largely dependent on what your goals are.
If you are looking to lose weight, then you probably already know that reducing your calorie intake is the starting point. Your body needs to be in an energy deficit to lose weight. Don’t fall into the trap of adding in exercise and eating more ‘because you’ve earned it’. At the other end of the spectrum, many people think that skipping breakfast means less calories in their diet. If that’s all you do, then yes that’s true, but the reality is this can leave you hungrier throughout the day and much more prone to snacking. This can essentially cancel out that deficit you believe you’ve created. Aim to fill your diet with plenty of whole foods, especially fruit and vegetables. Apart from generally being lower in calories, many are also often higher in fibre, which helps you feel fuller for longer.
If you are looking to gain muscle then a protein-rich diet is king. Create a diet with plenty of protein sources such as lean meats, fish, eggs & dairy. If you don’t eat animal products, then just ensure you’re eating a variety of protein rich foods to ensure you’re getting all the essential amino acids your body needs. Most importantly, to gain muscle you need to be in an overall energy surplus. You can’t build muscle out of nothing. Along with consistent and well planned training, and a very careful increase in calories, you are on the right path to packing on some decent size to those muscles!
The main aim of the game should be to eat at times of day that suit your routine without leaving too much time between meals. This way you avoid too much of a drop in blood sugar, as well as reduce the chance of overeating at your next meal. Until you’re eating a pretty consistent amount and it’s predominantly ‘healthy’ food, the time at which you eat certain things isn’t going to make much difference. However, once this is in place, you can start looking at focusing on having more or less of something at certain times of the day, such as around training.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you might have heard that eating little and often (such as 6-8 meals) is the key to boosting your metabolism? This is rubbish. If YOU like to eat little and often and that works for your routine and energy levels, then do just that. Most people however find this too time consuming. They find 3 larger meals a day, plus 1 or 2 small snacks (if needed) is plenty to keep them full and satisfied. Many people feel sluggish after big meals, some feel too hungry after smaller meals – it is personal preference. These factors however could come down to what you’re eating rather than the size of the meal itself. Either way, your metabolism will cope just fine.
You may have also heard that you can’t have certain things after 6pm, or 8pm, or was it 7:13pm? Again, rubbish. Your body doesn’t actually know what the time is. This rule generally helps people lose weight as all it’s doing is decreasing the window of time in which they eat food. So assuming they don’t try and cram more food into the day before that cut off time, they will in theory lose weight. If you need to eat late, then do so. The trap people fall into is the sleepy and hungry feeling in the evening. This can lead to reaching for the high sugar and high fat snacks to fill up and provide some energy. Too much of this will lead to fat gain, if you’re putting your body into an energy surplus.
For those looking to build muscle, it is beneficial that you get in a decent amount of protein and carbohydrates after your workout. You feed your muscles, you grow your muscles! Protein shakes are very handy for this purpose as they are quick and convenient. You can also use these to get a load of calories in quickly if needed as they are in liquid form. Your muscles need to recover post workout, and not providing them the nutrients (energy) to do so can really slow down progress. Try to eat something within 30 minutes of your workout, including a source of protein. If you can’t stomach anything right after training, that’s ok. Just aim to eat something within 2 hours of finishing and you’ll be fine.
Unsure of exactly how to manage your diet and feel like you need some personal, professional guidance? Speak with our nutritional expert Emily at Core Results Gym to see if nutrition coaching is right for you.