We’ve sat down with one of our favourite registered nutritionists, Rhiannon Lambert, to bring you the lowdown on pre and post-workout nutrition. Specialising in sports nutrition and weight management, Rhiannon’s worked with Olympians and professional athletes, and knows the impact nutrition has on performance at the highest level. As a foodie, she’s also worked with the Masterchef team, and is responsible for developing menus at London’s most celebrated eateries. So let’s get started…
A: There is no doubt that weight management is largely dictated by your diet, not your workout regime. If your diet isn’t good, even the most strenuous workouts won’t see results. For example, when people want their abs to show, they forget that it’s actually the body fat that’s preventing the muscle showing. So they’re working out and their body’s changing, but their muscles are hidden under a layer of fat. So that’s right – abs are indeed made in the kitchen and nutrition is fundamental, although genetics also play a key role.
A: This should be dictated by your goal as well as the type of workout you’ve done. Ultimately, a small amount of complex carbohydrates and protein before you workout is advisable. The slower releasing carbohydrates are better because they’re going to keep you energised throughout the whole workout. A few of my recommendations are:
Proats (protein + oats) is a great breakfast. It’s quick to cook, and adding protein powder slows the release of sugar in the oats. It’s all about blood sugar balance – not just a ‘cool’ thing to do that you see on Instagram!
Sweet potato with chicken or eggs is very filling yet easy to digest.
If you’re strapped for time, fruit before a workout is good because the fructose sugars provide an extra source of energy for the body. For example, bananas are a great source of natural sugars, simple carbohydrates, and potassium.
If you’re a morning person who doesn’t have time to eat before you workout, I’d try a quick banana smoothie that’s easy to make and quickly digested into your system.
Note: You’re best avoiding any raw items, especially people who are stressed or have sensitive guts. Anything uncooked just won’t be quickly broken down which is not beneficial pre-workout. If at all possible, having a meal, letting it go down, and then exercising will always set you up best pre-workout.
A: The most important thing is to make sure you’re getting protein and carbohydrate in your system within half an hour to an hour of any workout for optimal results. It’s recommended that you consume 0.14–0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight (e.g. 0.3–0.5 grams/kg) within 90mins following a workout. If you are especially active the carbohydrate component is crucial within 30 minutes and I would advise 0.5–0.7 grams of carbs per pound (e.g. 1.1–1.5 grams/kg) of body weight after training, which results in proper glycogen re-synthesis. So if you weigh 60kg, that would be 18-30g of protein, and 66-99g carbs.
Protein shakes are easy and convenient. Whey isolate is the fastest protein absorbed, and you should try to avoid any with added sugars as they’re completely unnecessary. Mix this with some dissolvable oats.
Yoghurt with a handful of nuts or berries is a great snack with a rice cake or two.
For those heavy weights sessions, you’re body is likely to be running on empty at the end. Consuming a smoothie filled with oats, nut butter and whey isolate protein will help you recover well.
If you can eat a meal, go for some fast absorbing carbohydrate such as white rice and some protein from chicken. Make sure you’ve pre-cooked the rice to avoid missing out on the 60-minute post-workout window to eat for optimal results.
A: Firstly, protein powder should only be seen as a supplement to your diet, and never a meal replacement. That’s because no protein powder offers the variety of nutrients that whole foods do. They are however, great for adding to smoothies, porridge or shakes to help maintain muscle mass, boost your metabolism and burn calories. The one that you use should be based on your lifestyle and goals. For everything you need to know about protein powder, a blog post of mine delves into all the types available and the brands to look out for and avoid (which you can read here).
A: Absolutely. Food is fuel and eating enough food each day depending on your workout days is essential. So many people don’t add an extra amount of food on top of their normal daily allowance if they’re doing a strenuous workout, and they won’t see the results. Their bodies will be clinging onto everything it can because it’s thinking it’s in starvation mode. Yoga, pilates and workouts that aren’t high intensity, but if you are doing a lot of cardiovascular work and strength (which tends to be the majority or circuit training and HIIT), then you definitely have to eat a little more every day.
A: Typically you should wait an hour to an hour a half after a meal before you workout. And everyone should have meals at regular times throughout the day, to ensure blood sugar balance and optimum digestion. So if people can fit workouts around their meal times and make sure they have the right nutrition required in their main meal, it saves so much hassle. But I know for most of us that’s not always realistic – it tends to be squeezing in that crack of dawn workout or going late in the evening.
A: Getting enough magnesium is important as it helps relieve muscle cramps. If you often find your legs or muscles shaking or you’re really lethargic, it could be a magnesium deficiency. Plant-based sources of iron aren’t as easily absorbed as red meat, so if you’re a plant-based eater, you have to be very inventive to make sure you’re getting enough. Iron works well with vitamin C!
A: I can’t stress enough how important sleep is for repair and recovery – it’s so crucial. Hydration is equally important and most people don’t drink enough water every day anyway. If you’re working out, your body needs roughly another litre on top of what we already need every day, depending on how much you sweat. That’s a lot of water – about three litres a day. Get a large water bottle and mark times of the day in pen on the side, so you know how much you should have drunk by when.
A: Women have a bit of an uphill battle compared to men if we’re looking at the same goals. It’s so much harder for women to achieve strength than men due to hormones – and they need a lot more nutritional support. Women also store more fat then men – men naturally let go of fat much easier due to their testosterone levels.
There are also new scientific studies that suggest men benefit from fasted cardio, and females don’t – again due to hormones. Women actually get more out of workouts if they have fuel beforehand. In fact, for women, working out on an empty stomach during intense exercise can be damaging. It induces our stress hormone cortisol, which has a knock-on effect on oestrogen, which is what regulates our insulin (our fat storage hormone). I often have clients who want to lose weight, and they say they’re doing bootcamps and HIIT sessions but the fat’s just not going – so as well as their diet, I look at their stress levels, because insulin resistance is related to over exercising and stress.
A: Usually for women it means they’re getting regular periods, or they’ve had a check and know everything’s ok. If you’re someone who has polycystic ovaries for example or any other hormonal problems, then I definitely recommend seeing a Registered Nutritionist. Any exercise and stress on top of an imbalance will make it much harder to achieve goals, but with nutritional guidance anyone can get there.
So there you go ladies and gents. If you’d like to know more about Rhiannon, visit her website at www.rhitrition.com or find her (and some serious food inspiration) on Instagram and Twitter @rhitrition