A number of factors need considering before choosing a meal routine. What’s your schedule? When are you working out? How much time will you have before or after your workouts for food intake?
Here, I’ll outline two different ideas and give a summary of what I believe is “optimal” for each.
If you work out in the evenings after work, you’ll have more time to eat leading up to your workout than time to eat after. What’s awesome about this is how full, energized, and strong you’ll feel with all those calories pumping through your system. Given the right intensity, you’ll outperform yourself in every workout. Essentially, this is your “perfect” line-up for performance.
The only drawback to this is how much you can constructively consume post-workout. The time after your workout is where you grow and adapt; the right carbohydrate sources and adequate protein intake (while getting loads of sleep) will help you progress. Realistically, you’ll most likely only have 4 hours post-workout to consume food before you go to sleep. This limits how much you’ll intake. The battle here is “Do I eat more?” or “Do I sleep more?”
That’s a tough decision. You’d have to figure out your body.
If you work out in the mornings before work, you’re most likely either a) showing up to the gym without having eaten a thing, or b) only had time for a little water intake and a small meal. Your performance here suffers simply because you’re running on fumes. Even if you’re a morning person (you’re a special kind of crazy, aren’t you?) your body will not perform at its peak given having very little “gas in the tank.” You can progress in your workouts at your limited state, but this can’t be considered your top performance.
The benefits of this are many; you start your day priming your system, you stay on a routine, it’s very difficult to skip a workout after work if you’ve already done it, and your job performance will most likely improve (in the mornings). If anything, the best part about this is all your nutrient intake for the rest of the day goes towards recovery. This is a huge deal.
Here are my suggestions for each of these choices (assuming performance and recovery are the goals).
Pre-Loading: Remember, this is if you’re working out later in the evening.
Start your morning with an average intake of slow-digesting carbohydrates (oats) and light protein sources (egg-whites or shakes). The closer you get towards your workout, start increasing your carbohydrates and start making them fast-digesting. I would suggest this be your pre-workout meal. Post-workout you’ll have limited time to eat, so have a higher-carbohydrate meal than your average size, comprised of fast-digesting carbohydrates and a fast-digesting protein (another shake, perhaps). Try eating a second meal with slow-digesting carbohydrates and protein. Sleep a lot.
Post-Loading: This is if you’re working out first thing in the morning.
Have a higher carbohydrate, lower protein meal pre-workout. Your carbohydrate source should be a fast-digesting carbohydrate. Fruits are your friends. Perhaps some Honey-Nut Cheerios (fan favorite). Have egg-whites or a protein shake. After your workout, again consume fast-digesting carbohydrates like white-rice or a protein-filled sandwich. For the rest of your day, consume slow-digesting carbohydrates (sweet-potato, oats, brown rice) and your average intake of protein sources. Scale back on the carbohydrates the further from your workout you get. Here you can add fats with your protein, like yogurt or almonds.