Does meal timing matter? What should we eat before and after training?

The most asked question I get when it comes to nutrition and performance is “what do I eat before and after I workout”. The minimalists will say that meal timing is in the details and that timing your meals in relation to your workout doesn’t really matter in the greater scheme of things. This is somewhat true. If you’re not eating enough or eating simply eating crappy foods, then why even stress about whether you eat an apple before or after your workout?

Personally, meal timing is important to me because of two things.

1.     I don’t want to feel like crap during my workout.

2.     The post workout window creates a slightly advantageous time to eat the more calorically dense foods that I enjoy.

So, what should we eat? What are the guidelines? I used to be an advocate for fat before training and carbs after training. I would say that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that approach, but the thing that makes it incorrect is that assuming that pre and post workout nutrition should be exclusive to these rules. There’s more to it. Here are my basic guidelines for pre and post workout nutrition.

1.     Time your meal 1-2 hours before training. I bolded meal because this is different from a snack. If you’re eating a Larabar then by all means you can eat that closer to your workout, but if were talking about a shawarma plate, then give yourself some time to digest and assimilate the food properly before your Zumba class. Eating too close to training can cause you to feel sluggish. The reasoning? When you ingest food, our body prioritizes digestion and blood flow is directed closer to our digestive system more than any other part of our body.

2.     Fat or Carbs before training? I remember being told that being fat-fueled was better than being carbohydrate fueled when it comes to endurance training. This may be true, but it doesn’t apply across the board for everyone. Fat provides a copious amount of energy but does so slowly. Carbs are an expensive fuel in that you’ll run out of it sooner, but provides fast and high-powered energy when you do have it. Short burst of energy like CrossFit or any metabolic conditioning would be best served with carbs.

3.     Pair a little fat content with your carbs prior to working out and you got yourself sustained blood sugar levels for the whole workout. Fat prevents the drastic drop in blood sugar as it slows down absorption.

4.     Prioritize protein and carbs in the post-workout window. Protein and carbs cannot be looked at exclusively after training. Only insulin spikes that are caused by carbs and protein enhance protein synthesis. Also, fat intake after training blunts the insulin response. Crushing a cookie or donut alone after working out is not as anabolic without some protein.

With that being said, nutrition is different for everyone. These are simply guidelines that may provide some sort of structure for someone looking to dive into the details of pre and post workout nutrition.