Pre- and Post Workout Foods

I have gotten a few questions & topic suggestions from people, both from my Facebook page and via PM. I used to respond directly, but I think everyone can benefit from these queries. So, let's get started! 

Q: What are the best pre- and post workout foods?

A: Many people believe that if you eat a magical combination of foods before or after a workout, you will lean out faster or pile on bigger muscles than you would had you eaten something boring. And while some food combinations somewhat help hardcore athletes power up and recover,  it probably won't mean much for you. This may not be a sexy answer, but there really is no such thing as "the best." Depending on your activity level, and the type of activity you do, your body requires a certain amount of nutrients. All you really have to do is fulfill those requirements throughout the day and your body will be just fine. In short, eat what you are comfortable with. Pre-workout meals don't sit right with everyone, same with post workout meals. I've seen people drink raw eggs and concoct crazy smoothies of kale and oats and lemon juice and have no idea how they do it. Or why. There is no need to force things down if your stomach says, "please stop."  

That said, it can be beneficial to get a protein source in, with some slow-digesting carbohydrates (oats, whole grains, etc.) an hour or so before you exercise, so you have enough energy to perform, and then have some fast digesting carbs (fruits, milk products and even simple sugar... yes, SUGAR) post workout, along with some recovery protein. The key is to simply have enough energy to fuel your workout and enough nutrient to feel satisfied afterward. 

There is much hullabaloo about protein shakes and anabolic windows and such. While I think protein shakes are a great post-workout snack, they are not required or necessary if you are meeting your nutritional requirements. If you are trying to build muscle and need to get more protein in your diet, I'd recommend one. They go down pretty easily and digest quickly. 

My schedule has changed recently, and has got me eating a regular meal (protein, veggies, starchy carb) about an hour-hour fifteen before I start lifting. It contains all my macros, but it is nothing special.  I also drink a little zipfizz for its small caffeine boost, since I go immediately from the gym to jiu jitsu. I cannot stomach to eat in between these activities, so I don't. I do keep sour patch gummies and pixie sticks in my gym bag for emergency simple sugar energy if I'm losing steam, but I don't need to dip into them often. When I get home, I usually eat Greek yogurt, mixed with some whey protein powder, peanut butter, and chocolate chips. It is satisfying, it stays put, and the mixture of simple sugars, plus fast digesting whey protein and slow-digesting casein protein is good for muscle building and recovery. On Fridays, when I do 2 1/2-3 hours of conditioning, I drink a small Gatorade in between classes, so I don't die of exhaustion on the mat. (again, a small amount of simple sugars for intense workouts.)

People make a lot of money convincing the recreational athlete or gym Joe that they need specific vitamins/herbs/supplements/instant nutrition around their workouts or it's all for naught. If you are just going for a run, or doing some exercise videos, simply make sure you eat to have enough energy to get yourself through. That's all. Unless you are on a serious ass-kicking program, training like a real athlete, or aiming to put on slabs of muscle, don't worry so much about pre and post workout meals. It is more important to get proper nutrition throughout the day as your body requires. Athletes and pros have all different types of advice, depending on whether or not they can stomach big meals, or if they prefer snacks and supplements. Listen to your body first and foremost and stick to the big picture.