Nutrition and Physical Activity
What Eat Before Workout
In sport and physical activity nutrition plays a key role; before attempting a training session, for example in the gym, the body needs to be put in a good condition:
- To cope with the most intense training stimulus as much as possible
- Recover quickly between series
- Prolong the performance for as long as necessary
- Keeping blood sugar constant for proper brain function
- Never reach levels of energy and hydro-saline depletion such as to require excessively long muscle recovery between sessions.
Nutrition before training in the gym therefore has the function of creating all the necessary prerequisites for achieving the desired performance; moreover, contrary to what one might think, it is also involved (although NOT directly) in the post-workout recovery potential. In simple terms, nutrition is an essential component that heavily affects the effectiveness of the training stimulus.
To make it easier to understand “what and how much” to eat before training, we will divide the nutrients in the diet into two categories:
- nutrients to be guaranteed through the daily diet
- nutrients to ensure through nutrition before training in the gym.
Note. Introducing certain foods into the other meals of the day rather than before training does NOT mean that they are not essential to the trainee. Quite the opposite!
Unfortunately, the athlete’s diet must also take into account digestion and metabolisation times, hypersensitivity (if any), subjectivity, training time, etc., so it is not always possible to “load” significantly the meal before training.
Nutrients to be guaranteed through the daily diet
This group of molecules mainly contains the nutrients commonly defined as “functional“, those that perform functions: structural, bio-regulation, precaution, etc..
Taking into consideration the macronutrients, it is possible to define that: the essential amino acids deriving from proteins with a high biological value (meat, fish, eggs, association of legumes and cereals etc.) and the essential fatty acids omega3 and omega6 contained in oils (extra virgin olive oil, soya, flax, fish etc.) must be guaranteed OVERALL by the daily nutritional balance; they represent a fundamental substratum for numerous metabolic functions as well as for muscle recovery from training (also called super-compensation).
Therefore, amino acids and fats must be supplied in the right quantities and carefully distributed in the daily diet, in order to constantly guarantee their metabolic availability.
The same applies to vitamins, trace elements, antioxidants, fibre and water.
The water supply, even if it needs to be properly compensated during training, should not be neglected throughout the day. Body hydration is essential to maintain overall physiological efficiency, especially renal efficiency; the sportsman is a subject who engages in activities and efforts that often transcend the common predisposition of the human body; therefore, even the metabolic reactions (and needs) differ from a sedentary person.
The functional and structural modifications of the respiratory, circulatory, skeletal, etc. apparatus are clear evidence of this; however, this adaptation occurs in response to a set of stimuli that affect the composition of the blood. Azotaemia is soaring, the buffer systems are over-activated, the production of ketone bodies increases, catecholamines change the overall hormonal balance, etc.; but to allow gases, nutrients, hormonal mediators and all other substances dissolved in the blood to reach the various districts, the blood plasma MUST maintain a certain volume, therefore a certain transport capacity.
Therefore, a hydrated organism is foremost an organism that responds correctly to stimuli and recovers to the best of its ability; but that’s not all!
The hydration of the blood also affects post-exercise recovery; considering that the metabolic function of the kidneys is the purification of the blood through filtration, and that in case of dehydration a plasma-saving process is activated thanks to which they reduce their work, it is obvious that the speed of elimination of toxic catabolites (responsible for systemic fatigue after exercise) is almost directly proportional to the volume of blood.
Generally, in order to guarantee the intake of vitamins and antioxidants, it is sufficient to pay attention to the QUALITY of the food consumed during the day, since (taking for granted a balanced diet) their intake increases proportionally to the increase in calories.
For minerals (especially potassium [K] and magnesium [Mg]) it is essential to accurately assess the level of overall perspiration; if the athlete sweats in a decisive way, it is essential to evaluate together with a professional the possibility of supplementing the daily intake of mineral salts through the use of simple over-the-counter products.
What Eat Before Workout
Nutrients to be guaranteed through pre-workout nutrition
The diet before training in the gym must be energetic because, as already explained, the molecules useful for homeostatic maintenance and post-exercise physical recovery are distributed more or less equally throughout the day (except for other needs such as weight loss); the same cannot be said for cross-country and middle-weight athletes, who would need a different post-exercise meal (much more energetic) than the one recommended after weight training (containing a higher protein ration).
Assuming that when working with people and not numbers, all recommendations are subject to individual compliance (or tolerability), in principle it is possible to define that the meal before training in the gym must have characteristics of:
- High digestibility
- High energy density (never below 250-300kcal)
- Glucidic prevalence, possibly from foods (and not supplements such as maltodextrin) with a medium or better low glycemic index
In addition, it should be consumed at a time distance from training that allows both digestion and (possibly) partial metabolization (fructose); let us go into more detail.
Foods with a prevalence of carbohydrates are mainly honey, cereals and derivatives (wheat, barley, rye, spelt and millet, then pasta, bread, crackers, polenta, etc.), potatoes, chestnuts, fruit (almost all except avocado or coconut) and some vegetables.
The choice between one or the other food depends on: the presence of other ingredients (seasoning oil, tuna, cold cuts, low-fat cheese, etc.), food portions and fiber content.
The presence of fats and proteins in other foods significantly lowers the glycemic index of the meal due to digestive slowdown; therefore, a mixed meal cannot be eaten less than 2:30-3:00h before the session; the same applies to food portions, i.e., the greater the quantity of food, the longer the digestion time will be.
Regarding dietary fibre, it can be used (e.g. by inserting vegetables into a sandwich) to slow down the absorption of sugars and prolong the absorption time in the event that you do not have any food with a medium or low glycemic index; however, it should be remembered that: exaggerating with dietary fibre intake could excessively dilute the waiting time before the session.
In short, the diet before training in the gym must first of all ensure energy support for:
- Save reserve glycogen
- Maintain good blood sugar levels until the beginning of the session.
The choice of food must prefer above all foods with good energy density but with a medium or low glycemic index, so as not to cause an excessive insulin peak that would quickly reduce blood glucose and would negatively affect the state of mental concentration at the beginning of training.
It is possible to eat some fruits (apple, pear, orange, etc.), which besides being easily digestible, have a sufficiently low glycemic index, perhaps by associating them with a small portion of basmati rice, or wholemeal pasta or a sandwich with grilled peppers or another fruit with a high glycemic index (ripe banana) or some corn / rice / wheat with honey / jam NOT sweetened, etc..
The mix of a low-calorie fruit, but containing dietary fibre, with another food with a higher glycemic index makes it possible to balance the absorption of carbohydrates and to keep the glycemia fairly constant over time (up to about 2:00h); the same goes for some vegetables (carrots, potatoes and peppers with the skin removed) if accompanied by simple white bread.
Alternatively, for less susceptible people, it is possible to eat up to 30′ before training; obviously, with a similar timing it will be essential to use simple carbohydrates (honey, banana, sweet jam, etc.) or semi-complexes (low-fat bread BEN COOKED) with a high glycemic index, in order to drastically reduce absorption times without worrying about the insulin peak which will be automatically moderated by the increase in catecholamines during training.