Rising Like a Phoenix from the Ashes with Your Pre-Workout and Post-Workout Meal
Mickey Rourke, Martha Stewart, Steve Jobs, G. Gordon Liddy, and Robert Downey Jr. We definitely like our comebacks don’t we? Rising like the phoenix from the ashes. But what does that have to do with a pre and post-workout meal?
The same thing happens when you workout. When you do cardio or strength training your body is actually being beaten up so to speak. Your muscle tissue is broken down. Your energy is drained.
You could potentially even be sore.
What is amazing is that with this strain we put on our body with exercise, it comes back stronger waiting for more challenges. A major variable how your body responds is based on what pre and post-workout meals you dump down your throat. Your energy levels during the next workout will be highly impacted by the meal you have right after the first workout and the meal you eat before your next workout.
If you eat right, then it will help you come back strong just like these celebrity Phoenixes we mentioned.
For both pre and post-workout meals, most of this will depend on your body type and goals. You will have different options based on how you are genetically designed and what you want to accomplish. For pre-workout meals, no matter who you are, it is best to eat light before working out. A good pre-workout meal could be something like a handful or less of food. This is especially ideal if you are working out in the morning when your glycogen levels are low. Low glycogen levels means more fat being burned when you workout.
The best pre-workout meal will consist of some lean protein and fat, especially if your focus is fat loss. Maybe a little bit of vegetables if you are in need of energy. If you are not looking to lose fat, then a great pre-workout meal could include some fruit or sweet potatoes for energy.
The best post-workout meal can be vastly different for everyone. Are you looking at doing this for performance benefits? Is this health related? Are you looking to burn fat or build muscle?
In most cases, especially if you are trying to burn fat or have health concerns, I would focus a good post-workout meal on some sort of protein and starchy carb like a sweet potato, yam, or squash. I would also include some protein like animal meat of some kind. Good post-workout meals also consist of some fat as well like coconut milk, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, etc.
If you are working out with a physically demanding sport or training like Crossfit, kickboxing, football, or some endurance training then I would still include a starchy carb in your post-workout meal. Although if you are less likely to gain fat, an ectomorph/mesomorph body type, or if you are training for endurance you could replace the starchy carb with some amount of fruit.
So why the difference between the two when it comes to a post-workout meal? Both fruit and starchy carbs help you “rise like that phoenix from the ashes”. They replenish those liver and muscle glycogen stores. They give your body that energy back that was exhausted during exercise. The only exception is that while fruit has insoluble fiber to help maintain sugar levels, it can still overfill the liver glycogen levels if you tend to eat too much. This is what triggers insulin sensitivity and causes your body to retain glucose as fat in your body.
For fruit it isn’t as bad as pure sugar and that is why you can get away with a serving or maybe two a day, but it is still potent. Throw in some oranges, strawberries, blueberries, or watermelons and you should be solid. Starchy carbs don’t have as high of an impact on your insulin levels compared to fruit. So they make perfect sense as a resource to retain energy in your body without negatively impacting your insulin levels.
All of these aspects of a post-workout meal will make a major difference in your recovery time, how fast you make improvements in your goals, and how big of a difference you will see in your results.
Other Thoughts on Eating Around Workouts
There are other factors besides a pre-workout meal and a post-workout meal that will impact your results. You should pay just as close of attention to these issues as well.
Check Each Meal
If you are struggling with exercise, don’t dissect just the pre and post-workout meal. Every meal counts. Go back to what are you eating throughout the day and see if it is spiking your insulin levels or causing gut irritation issues. The foods that are well-known for doing that are sugar, grains, legumes (beans), and dairy.
Instead you should be eating unprocessed, fresh foods. Each meal should include animal protein, variety of vegetables, and fat.
Another area to focus on is timing. How long have you been eating a diet consisting of mostly animal protein, veggies and fat? Eating healthy is often like kicking a drug. It can take a while to get your body adjusted. Often people may need a month or more before they see impact in their exercise. If you are still struggling, then limit your carbs to 50-75 g a day to keep stable insulin levels while still replenishing muscle glycogen levels.
Some people get concerned about a diet heavy in protein and fat, which is known as a ketogenic diet. The concern is the lack of glucose to help support important organs like your brain. If glucose, such as from grains, is not provided for your system, then your body will start producing ketones for energy in your brain. Also protein in your body will go through a process of “gluconeogenesis” which converts protein into glucose for energy. As long as you are getting in a lot of fat with that protein, then this is a total healthy way to go. Often a lot of kids are put on ketogenic diets to help with epilepsy.
Really you want to eat protein and fat until you are full. I try not to measure, because a lot of recommended amounts in standard diets are often way too low. Be patient with this diet. It make a few weeks and even a month or so before your body gets adjusted and you come back with a great deal of energy.
Another question to ask yourself about is sleep. Are you getting 8-9 hours of sleep at least? Is this sleep happening in a dark, cool room like a cave setting? The answers to these questions should all be yes. Otherwise you could have whacky levels of cortisol causing you to retain and gain more fat.
How stressful is your lifestyle? One of the big factors is how peaceful is your life. Do you have a lot of stress in your job, family, or other areas? Do you have shift work? Do you deal with physically demanding work or emotionally demanding people? All of these can lead to more challenges with your cortisol levels. Try to get your life in control and this will go a long way toward helping you look how you want to.
What if it just doesn’t work? For a very, very small percentage of you God has given you the genetic winning lottery ticket. You build muscle like a tree grows branches. You deflect fat like superman deflecting bullets. Even then for the most part this diet will do you good.
You will probably need more carbs than your counterparts. If you are one of those rare people, then you can have more flexibility with dairy such as grass-fed milk and cheese, fruit, whey protein, shakes, etc.
I would still try to avoid sugar and drinks if possible because liquid and sugar are big contributors toward insulin sensitivity, which can lead to diabetes and host of other metabolic syndrome diseases like heart disease and cancer. Again you have to tweak and test things out for yourself to see what works best for you. Ectomorphs and mesomorphs (people that “struggle” to put on fat) just have a bit more flexibility.
What about supplements with a post-workout meal? It is always good to supplement with fish oil. You can use ½ gram per 10 pounds of your body weight. So if you weigh 200 pounds, that is 10 grams of fish oil a day.
Charles Poliquin recommends a high dose of glutamine post workout. Your liver converts glutamine into glucose which can shift around to replete muscle glycogen. All of this is done while maintaining insulin sensitivity. It’s not required, but just another option you have in your quiver.
To Sum it Up
Just like so many other health aspects we talk about here, this is something you will have to test and figure out for yourself. You are going to have to get to know your body well enough to know when it needs more, less, or something different.
Just like all of those celebrities we mentioned, they had to figure out their way back and it took them time to do so. This is an ongoing battle and constantly evolving. Don’t expect to be perfect, but expect to figure it out soon enough to make drastic improvements in your workout and recovery.
Rise you phoenix, rise!