In my last post, I discussed the different roles of the three macronutrients and how to roughly determine how many of them to be consuming each day. When it is all said and done, if your goal is to lose weight, the most important thing is to control your calories and protein, but being smart about when you consume different types of food can vastly impact the success of your workouts as well as your adherence to sticking to your diet. So now that you understand the role of protein, carbs, and fats in the body, let's look at some strategies about how and when to consume each one.
Protein is the most important macronutrient as it is quite literally what we’re made up of. If we don’t get enough protein, we’ll start to lose lean body mass. When we consume adequate protein at a meal, we undergo what’s called protein synthesis - in other words, we are using new protein from our diet to repair damaged proteins in our body.
When we exercise, we’re causing physical damage to our muscles, and we must repair that damage so the muscle can heal up and be ready for the next workout. Approximately 25-30g of protein is required to maximize protein synthesis, so you should strive to have all your meals contain at least this amount of protein so that every time you eat you are doing everything you can to retain or gain lean body mass.
Studies have shown that 4 feedings of protein spaced throughout the day are optimal, and that no greater benefit exists by breaking up your meals into smaller feedings, as once was believed. Ideally you should aim for a protein feeding roughly an 1-2 hours before your workout and again during or following your workout but don't worry if its not instantly after your last set. So long as total protein intake for the day is kept up high, you’ll be just fine if you had your protein shake or meal an hour after you lifted weights and not the second after you walked out of the gym.
Another note about protein: 25-30g will maximize protein synthesis in most people, but that doesn't mean more won’t be better. We are constantly breaking down protein, so consuming a higher number of grams means that you'll have more new protein to digest, in turn staving off protein breakdown for a longer period of time. Protein is very filling and therefore keeping the protein high each meal leaves you satiated longer. I weigh about 200 lbs and consume about 200g of protein per day, and usually space my intake pretty evenly across 4 meals, always shooting for roughly 50g per meal.
Carbs are the macronutrient that are going to determine how good of a workout you’re going to have, as most of the energy you expend during training will be derived from them. While carbs are not an essential macronutrient to consume as we can convert protein into glucose, if you workout hard you’re going to want a steady supply of them to pull from. Since we’re usually using mostly fat for energy when we rest, I recommend loading your carb intake around your workout. The number that you're consuming at once will vary greatly based on your size and level of training, but a high carb/protein meal roughly 60-90 minutes pre workout will ensure you’ve had time to start digesting them so that they’re ready to be used.
Any kind of carbs will be fine here, but be wary about consuming a high fiber meal before you workout to ensure you’re not going to bloat. Immediately following your workout you’ll want to consume fast digesting carbs to replenish the glycogen you’ve just used for your workout. Think fruit, fruit juice or a sports drink, bagels, pasta, white potatoes, or even cereal. In other words, this is the time to be eating what you may have thought of as “unhealthy” foods before, because now that you’ve just worked out your body will be ready to push all those carbs into the muscle cell instead of turning them into fat, as it will do when you’re resting. If you are someone who works out first thing in the morning and can’t get a big meal in before training I suggest having a carb heavy meal in the evening and sipping a sports drink while you’re working out so that you have more energy to pull from.
As far as fats go, they won’t be directly giving you a ton of energy for your workout and they digest relatively slowly, so I advise consuming them further from your workout. You don't want to consume much fat immediately after training because they will interfere with how fast your body absorbs the carbs. Think of it like this: your body uses carbs for training, fat for resting, and always needs protein, so eat in accordance to that throughout the day.
Here’s an example of how I structure my day:
Meal 1: 5:15am: High fat/high protein
Meal 2: 10:00am: Medium fat/high carb/high protein
Meal 3: (preworkout) 2pm: high carb/high protein
Meal 4: (post workout) 4:45pm: high carb/high protein
Meal 5: 8:00pm: medium carb/medium fat/high protein
Here is a protein pancake recipe my girlfriend made a while ago that we frequently use as our weekend pre-workout meal!
1 scoop of whey protein powder (we use Optimum Nutrition and De Novo Nutrition)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar free vanilla pudding mix
1.5 oz mashed banana
2 tbsp greek yogurt
5 tbsp unsweetened almond milk
4 tbsp egg whites
Mix all ingredients in bowl and cook over pancake griddle or pan. This make one serving, and contains 39g protein, 57g carbs, and 2g fat, for a total of 402 calories. You can also sub out the whole wheat flour to something else, but remember if you’re using almond flour or coconut flour that the fat content will go up and carbs will go down, which won’t make this as ideal of a recipe pre lift, but they’ll still be good! And of course you can add fruit, syrup, or whatever else you’d like as toppings. Give the recipe a try and let me know what you think in the comments!
The Chopping Block's Monday Meals series of demonstration cooking classes have easy to make, often healthy options like this Monday's Roasted Salmon with Rice Noodles and Roasted Asian Greens. Sign up for this class on May 22 at 6pm at the Merchandise Mart. It's just one hour!