This article originally appeared on Brit+Co on February 21, 2017. You can read it in its original form here.
Getting in shape is all about making small choices that add up to something BIG. Minor tweaks here and there, like giving up soda or fitting in effective 30-minute workouts, can make a huge difference to your physique in the long run. But if you’re looking to speed up the process and get *serious* about your fitness journey, you may want to start paying attention to what you eat pre-, during, and post-workout. When you do strenuous physical activities like weightlifting, long-distance running, and high-intensity interval training, your body goes through a pretty predictable process. By keeping this in mind, you can give your body all the nutrients it needs to maximize muscle gain, burn calories, and supercharge your workout efforts.
Pre-Workout: Caffeine, Carbs, and Protein
About two hours before your workout, be sure to have a fuel-packed meal. You’ll want to chow down on lots of yummy carbs, but you shouldn’t see this pre-calorie burn meal as an excuse for eating pasta or white bread. High-GI carbohydrates (that is, carbs that are high on the glycemic index) are digested quickly, causing spikes in your insulin and blood sugar levels. This may give you some short-term energy, but you’ll probably experience an energy crash within a few short hours.
Instead, eat a meal that contains healthy, slow-digesting carbs, such as fruits, sweet potatoes, whole grain brown rice, or quinoa. Pair your carbs with a healthy protein source, such as lean meat, eggs, or legumes.
You might also want to consider sipping on coffee or green tea about 30 minutes before your workout. Caffeine is totally healthy in moderation, and it’s a good tool to help you maximize your workout sesh.
During Your Workout: Water and (Maybe) BCAAs
While you’re working out, you’ll absolutely want to sip on some water. As you sweat, your body depletes its water reserves, which can leave you super dehydrated if you’re not careful. Go for pure water — no sugary beverages need apply — and if you’re weight lifting, consider adding branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to your H2O.
What are BCAAs, you ask? They’re a category of amino acids that’s closely involved in muscle function. A light, low-calorie BCAA supplement can be mixed right into your water bottle, supporting your workout and giving you major muscle gains.
“It’s well established that branched-chain amino acids (particularly leucine) stimulate protein synthesis, and might do so to a greater extent than a normal protein on its own,” writes Layne Norton, PhD for Bodybuilding.com. “BCAAs also work in your favor by reducing the rate of protein breakdown.”
Post-Workout: Carbs and Protein
After you’ve finished being a total boss babe in the gym, it’s time to replenish your glycogen stores. Glycogen is essentially the form in which your body stores glucose, an energy-rich sugar found in carbohydrates. Since you burned through your stockpile during your workout, it’s essential to get some healthy carbs in. Fruit is the PERFECT snack to eat right after a workout. Additionally, since your muscles have been working hard and are in need of nourishment, it’s crucial to consume some protein right after a workout.
That’s why we recommend a fresh fruit smoothie with natural protein powder, or a healthy snack containing nuts, lean meat, and fruit. These protein and fruit combos are the perfect way to seal the deal after a good workout.
“As soon as possible post-workout, get carbs and protein into your body,” writes Christopher R. Mohr, PhD, for EatRight. “This gives your muscles the ability to replenish the glycogen they just lost through training and helps your tired muscles rebuild and repair with the available protein and amino acids.” Now go off and crush that gym sesh.
What are your favorite pre- and post-workout snacks? Tweet us @BritandCo and let us know!