This article forms Part Two of the “Your First Workout” series. (You can read Part One here) In this section, we focus on a typical good eating plan to follow on your workout day. Keep in mind that his will differ a little from your diet on non-training days.
The foods described in this article, can be substituted with a huge variety of alternative source, so don't be concerned if you really dislike the specific foods described. The purpose is just to show you what type of food should ideally be taken throughout the day. (More info on some alternatives sources later on in the post.)
First, some good news for everyone who love their carbohydrates. This is the one day where you are encouraged to increase your carbohydrate intake. Hang on, just don't get too excited too soon. I am not referring to refined carbohydrates like sugary drinks, candy bars and refined wheat products like white bread, bagels and donuts. I am referring to "healthy" complex carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, oats and sweet potatoes.
Before moving on to describing the different meals, some clarification is in order to explain why carbohydrates plays such a big role on your workout day.
First, your workout, if performed properly, requires a substantial amount of calories to burn to keep energy levels sustained throughout your training session. Having build up a sufficient amount of carbohydrates in your system, insures you have a sustained source of energy that will keep you performing at your optimum level, without having to worry about your body using precious muscle tissue instead of food as an energy source.
There is lot of controversy and diverse opinions over the more "liberal" use of carbohydrates. Especially proponents of diets like the Paleo and Atkinson's Diets, believe carbohydrates should be avoided at all costs. The problem is, if you are already following a diet extremely low in carbohydrates, you have "very little room to play with" when burning calories. Without sufficient fuel to burn as energy during and post-workout, it is extremely easy for your body to start consuming muscle tissue as energy, which can put your body in a catabolic state. A situation that can sometime be tricky to reverse.
I would rather recommend having a surplus of carbohydrates, which may turn into some fat as storage, than burning away your hard earned muscle gains. It is much easier to dial back your carbohydrate intake and lose the excess fat gained, than to rebuild the muscle tissue lost. It is a process of trial and error, and you will learn in time what amount works for you. Each person's body respond differently.
Enough about carbohydrates for now. Time to move on to the actual eating plan. I will first discuss the eating plan, and in the following section discuss how you can adopt it to your schedule. I will also go into more detail, explaining why the different foods are consumed at certain times. We will also be looking at some alternatives.
The Eating Plan
If you read through physique and fitness magazines, online blogs and watch Youtube videos, you will see that the the trend is to advocate breaking down your meal plan into at least 6 smaller meals. This is close to ideal and make it a lot easier for your body to stay anabolic and digest your food properly. It also helps to keep your metabolic rate up which helps your body to keep burning fat for much longer. Therefore, we will start with a 6 meal plan.
1 bowl of oats
2 Scrambled eggs
1 cup of coffee / glass of orange juice
Meal 2 (pre-workout)
1 small protein or meal replacement shake
1 apple or banana
Meal 3 (post-workout)
1 Protein Shake (preferably whey protein)
1 grilled chicken breast
4-6 ounces of Cottage Cheese
1 Sweet Potato
1 cup of greek yogurt.
6-8 ounces of lean steak (or tuna)
1 cup of rice
1 cup of steamed vegetables
1 small mixed salad with a table spoon of olive oil
1 cup of cottage cheese
1 protein shake (preferably casein protein)
This is a basic breakdown of what a healthy optimal eating plan on your workout day can look like. Now let's look in more detail at the timing of the meals compared with when you do your workout, and how to adjust them to suite your schedule.
Timing And Organizing Your Meal
The sample meal plan, is set up for your typical late morning workout. But to be realistic, who of us have time or permission to take off from work at eleven in the morning? Most people choose to do their training either early in the morning before work, during their lunch hour or late afternoon after the workday is finished. Each of these three time-slots will be used as a basis to help organize you meal plans accordingly.
Early Morning Training:
You need at least an hour or more (in most cases more than 2 hours) of no food intake before your workout starts. This gives your body time to digest your meal, and allow the nutrients to enter the bloodstream. Directly after eating, blood is focused around your digestive area to aide with digestion and the uptake of nutrients in the bloodstream, not the muscles where it suppose to be working when you are training a muscle group.
For that reason, breakfast is not an option for you. Meal 2, which serves as quick "energy boost", should be taken immediately after waking up. After completing you workout, Meal 3 should be taken as quickly as possible. Around lunch time Meal 4 and repeat it mid-afternoon. Dinner should be Meal 5. Meal 6 should be taken about an hour before bed.
Yes, you are missing out on breakfast. To compensate for it, I normally take some complex carbohydrates during my late night "snack" the previous night, as it is still in my system when training the next morning. I can honestly feel the difference if I didn't have any carbohydrates the night before workout the next morning. Try it and see if it works for you too.
Lunch Time Training
Here, the order of your meals stay the same as described in the table. You just don't have to rush your breakfast and eat it just before leaving for work. Just remember to take Meal 2 an hour or more before your workout. As with the other two scenarios, make sure Meal 3 (post-workout) is taken as quickly as possible after your workout. The remaining 3 meals are taken as normal.
Late Afternoon Training
With this routine, your meal order get "mixed up" quite a bit, but with good reason. It looks as follows:
You start with Meal 1 (breakfast) as normal. This however, gets followed by Meal 4 to sustain energy and protein levels. Meal 2 (pre-workout) is taken mid-afternoon to boost energy levels for your workout. Meal 3 (post-workout) is taken as quickly as possible after the workout. This is followed by Meals 5&6 as normal.
The Plan And Indredients Explained
Obviously there is a reason for the type of foods in the eating plan and when they are taken. Nutrients aren't just randomly chosen and thrown together.
Oats: A grain based carbohydrate that is the perfect way to start the day, providing sustained energy throughout the day. It also provides the body with healthy fats and help maintain muscle mass.
Eggs: Often being described as the the perfect food, it is great source of protein. Although the yolk of the egg has been "accused" of contributing to increased cholesterol in the human body in the past, recent studies showed that even though the yolk itself is high in cholesterol, a very small percentage is actually absorbed by the body. It is also easy to digest and a great source of energy, making it the perfect breakfast companion.
Coffee: The advantages of coffee are too numerous to mention, but the obvious standout being the boost in energy it provides to kick-start your day. Recently studies showed that having multiple cups of coffee throughout the day have additional health benefits.
Orange Juice: Rich in vitamin C and fibre while improving blood circulation. The natural sugar in orange juice also provides a boost in energy.
Whey Protein Shake: Normally in powder form, and mixed with water or milk. Whey is not just quickly digested, but enters the bloodstream and muscles very quickly, which is essential after a workout when your body needs the nutrients quickly to stop muscle breakdown and assist in recovery.
Apples: One of richest sources of nutrients to support the immune system. Eating an apple before a workout provides a surprisingly high boost in energy to fuel your workouts. Some researchers even stated that it is better source of energy than caffeine.
Bananas: Another great source of energy to be taken before a workout. It is also rich in potassium that helps with muscle contraction and nerve function, as well as assisting with digestion.
Potatoes: Also rich in potassium and vitamin C, potatoes are complex carbohydrates that is used by the body as a sustained source of energy. It is also more quickly absorbed by the digestion system than sweet potatoes, and stays in your system much longer than simple carbohydrates. This makes it ideal as a post workout energy source that helps to raise insulin levels, which in turns help with the uptake of protein in the body. Caution should be taken when consuming potatoes in numbers though, especially on non-training days when energy demands are much lower. Excess energy provided by potatoes can easily be stored as fat.
Sweet Potatoes: Very similar to potatoes in many respects, it is considered to be a healthier alternative as a complex carbohydrate. It has a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes, which means it doesn't cause an insulin spike, and therefore forms a more stable source of energy to be taken alongside a protein source later on during the day.
Chicken: (especially chicken breast): A "light" white meat which, alongside red meat, it is one the main sources of protein, used by physique athletes and bodybuilders the world over. Due to its capacity to be digested much quicker than red meat, it is ideal to be taken during the day when you still need to be active. For the same reason it can be taken in smaller portion more frequently without taxing your digestive system.
Red Meat: Whether in the form of beef or lamb, red meat has for many years been considered the main staple food for any athlete seriously pursuing muscle gains. Packed with protein and iron, there is very little disagreement as to its position as a protein powerhouse. Only one word of caution. Red meat takes some time to digest. If you eat too much, or have a slow digestive system, it can make you feel sluggish and lethargic. This may be a problem if you still need to be active and alert. This is why I almost always recommend eating it in the evenings when you are slowing down and have plenty of time to let it digest and be absorbed by your body. Obviously if you take it in very small bites (snacks) throughout the day, it won't be a problem. As a part of a main meal and at 6-8 ounces or more, I would definitely recommend sticking with dinner.
Mixed Vegetables: We all know what vegetables are, but I would put emphasis on including greens, such as broccoli, peas and spinach, as well carrots and beetroot. There are plenty of other healthy vegetables to choose from, but the five examples I mentioned, really takes the crown when it comes to supplying the body with anti-oxidants, vitamins and fibre. It also plays a big part in aiding the body's digestive system, which is crucial with a diet high in protein. Make sure you include include at least one mixed vegetable portion in your daily diet plan.
Salad: A mixed salad is an excellent source of fibre and light in calories. You can actually combine this with any meal, not necessarily just dinner. Apart from including healthy ingredients like green lettuce, tomatoes, olives and peppers, you can also give your body a good protein boost. Including ingredients like feta cheese, avocados and strips of bacon or chicken is just one of many ways to increase your protein intake.
Casein Protein Shake: Normally in powder form, and mixed with water or milk. Unlike whey, casein is not quickly digested and stays in your system for hours. This make it ideal to take as a late-night meal/drink just before going to bed. As you are going to be "fasting" for the next seven hours or more, you need a protein that stays in your system for some time. Casein fits the bill perfectly.
Cottage Cheese: Another high protein source. It also packed with essential minerals and light in calories, which means it won't keep you up at night. And the best part, is that the protein is casein based!
And that covers all the foods mentioned in this eating plan, alongside an explanation of each one, as well as the purpose and timing of each meal. I need to re-emphasize that this by no means the only correct eating plan available. It is just one of many variants, and even within this eating plan, you can substitute almost all the ingredients with an alternatives of your choice.
And Now, For A Spanner In The Works!
The eating plan just laid out and explained to you, is the "ideal eating plan" for the perfect person with the perfect metabolism, digestive system and the ideal ideal body type. And that is the big problem. None of us are perfect and a surprisingly large percentage of people are unable to follow this eating plan rigorously and over the long term.
Guess what. That's OK! You don't have to and still get results.
Right now you are probably thinking why you bothered reading through this article, just to be told it is fine not to stick with it. So what was the point? Bear with me.
In an ideal world with the ideal body, you will respond extremely well to this diet. Even though most of us do not, there are some universal truths to be taken out of this plan:
And Now, For Something Completely Different
This diet is a complete departure from almost 99% of the principles normal diets usually follow. I stumbled across it a few years back as it happened to suite my eating habits at the time.
I'm one of those people with no appetite in the morning and throughout most of the day, and late night I am hungry enough to eat an elephant. After countless rebukes and attempts, I managed to adopt a healthier routine by starting to incorporate literally bite-size pieces of the diet plan, eventually managing to end with a plan close to the one in this article. Which leads me to this book:
(Important, this section is just to illustrate to you the extremity to which diet plans can differ.)
As I mentioned, this book literally throws all conventional wisdom about diet and eating plans out the window. It basically promotes the idea of fasting for 14-16 hours, under-eat for 4 hours and then over-eat for 4 hours in the evenings. Yep, that is about as crazy and out there as it gets. The really crazy part? The theory and principles are actually backed up by scientific evidence. It's validity can be debated in many ways.
Since I still have my biggest meal in the evenings and struggle to take in enough calories during the day, I followed the diet plan for a while. I was quite surprised how well it worked for me. Looking at the before-and-after pictures of other participants, as well as reading reviews and testimonials, confirmed my own findings.
Does this means this will work for everyone? Probably not. Is it a healthy diet plan. Also, probably not. Is it sustainable? I have no idea.
Therefore, I cannot condemn or promote it. I have no evidence as to its true effectiveness or hidden dangers. The eating plan in this article, however, has been proven to work and be a healthy way of reaching your goal. The goal of this section is make you aware of how different each one of us is, and responds to different diets. I would really encourage you to not just follow any eating plan blindly, but make adjustments and and don't be afraid to experiment a little. You are the best expert in finding out what is best for you.
Anyway, if you are night eater like me, go and have look at "The Renegade Diet" by following any of these links (in the book title and picture as well.) Go and find out what it is all about and make up you own mind. Who knows?
If you feel your head is spinning right now, I don't blame you. It is a lot of information and you may have to read this more than once to make sense of everything. The whole goal of this article is to provide you with a rough framework you can work from, especially when you are putting together a diet plan from scratch. Use it as starting point.
Now, it's up to you, and my only remaining advice to you is: Experiment, experiment, experiment.... It is going to take time, but: "Try, adjust, look at the results. Repeat."
Your body is unique and will respond different to everyone else's. You owe it to yourself to find what works best for YOU.
I went a little further than the intended scope of this article, but I hope this article was useful in helping you better understand how a diet plan works and can be followed, especially on your workout day.
As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my mailing list to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.
Until next time, take care and start stocking up on some of these super foods for your diet plan!