Ask A Nutritionist: Eat Right, Perform Better

At last, some solid nutrition advice for the questions you’ve been dying to ask! We sat down with certified nutritionist Nick Whiteman to get the lean facts on what to eat before and after workouts, plus what you really need to do to build muscle and lose fat.

1. What would you recommend to eat/drink before a workout? Does timing matter?

The purpose of workout nutrition is to provide adequate carbohydrates to fuel the workout and promote recovery and to provide enough protein to stimulate muscle growth and repair.

© Unsplash

© Unsplash

Fat and fibre slow the absorption of nutrients so it is best to avoid them pre-workout.

Because the purpose of a pre-workout meal is to optimise performance, nutrient availability and recovery, it is ideal to eat within 2 hours of starting your training session.

This means that the ideal pre-workout meal should contain lean protein and low fibre carbohydrates, enough that you aren’t hungry during your session and not so full that it affects your training.

Low fibre carbohydrate foods include pasta, rice and processed grain products such as bagels. Sugary foods can also be eaten in moderation.

Low fat and fibre foods that are high protein include seitan, tofu, tempeh, soy milk/yoghurt, meat alternatives and if you choose to eat animal products, low fat meat, poultry, fish and dairy. 

Definitely make sure you’re sufficiently hydrated. Caffeine can be a good addition for various reasons if it doesn’t disrupt your sleep.

© Julia Nitzschke

© Julia Nitzschke

2. What would you recommend to eat/drink after a workout? 

Similar to your pre-workout meal, an optimal post-workout meal should be high in protein and carbohydrates and low in fats and fibre. This means that similar foods are suitable for pre and post-workout.

If you don’t feel like eating after a workout, a protein shake will be enough. 

If you haven't eaten within 2 hours of starting your training session, I would recommend getting in your post-workout meal sooner rather than later. 

If your pre-workout meal within 90 minutes of the start of your training session you can consume your post-workout meal within an hour or so of finishing your training. You don’t need to reach for your protein shake as soon as you finish your last rep.


3. If I'm not hungry in the morning, is it fine to workout on an empty stomach?

Yes! It is completely fine to train on an empty stomach. It’s not “optimal” but it’s not far off.

If you don't eat before your workout, you should try and eat a post-workout meal as soon as you can after you finish training.

This is applicable for any workout that you begin after more than two hours since your last meal. Training in a fasted state is nothing to be afraid of.


4. For evening workouts, which foods are ok to eat before bedtime? 

The same rules apply as above.

High protein and carbohydrate, low fibre and fats such as the ones mentioned above - tofu, tempeh, pasta, rice, etc.

If you are training really late and don’t feel hungry before bed, I would suggest at least having some protein after training, maybe a protein shake.

If you don’t like to eat after training, ensure that your pre-workout meal is pretty close to your workout.


5. What does a typical day look like for a client whose goal is to build muscle, vs. losing fat?

A client who is trying to gain muscle and a client who is trying to lose fat will have many things in common. 

One thing these goals have in common is that they both require some specific effort to grow or at least maintain muscle. 

Muscle growth requires three things: 

  1. Training stimulus

  2. Adequate protein

  3. Enough energy

Training stimulus comes from resistance training. By using a muscle under load you are providing the stimulus.

Adequate protein throughout the day, and to a lesser extent in each meal, is required to build/maintain muscle. 1.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight is usually a manageable amount. 

© Nick Whiteman

© Nick Whiteman

Consistently having enough energy for the body to send the required signals is the final piece of the puzzle. This means consuming more energy than you are burning throughout the day.

To maintain muscle you only need two out of the three.

This means that if you want to maintain muscle and you can’t train for any reason, you will need to consume adequate protein and more energy than your use.

If you want to lose fat and maintain muscle then you will need to consume less energy than you use each day and that means you will need to have adequate protein and provide a training stimulus.

So, to answer the question, both the client trying to gain muscle and the client trying to lose fat will train regularly and eat enough protein. The client trying to gain muscle will just eat more than the client trying to lose fat.


6. As we transition to the colder seasons, do we need to be switching things up when it comes to nutrition, is there anything we should incorporate or look out for?

The winter months usually result in fewer opportunities to be active as the lower temperatures drive people indoors and into public transport. Sticking to a structured workout plan during the winter months is important for overall health.

I would also suggest using the winter months as a period where, if you are trying to lose weight, you take a break from this. It is healthy, mentally and physically, for everyone to spend some time every now and then where the goal may be to maintain current body weight or even gain some muscle.

Chronic low energy availability due to prolonged periods of dieting can lead to Adaptive Thermogenesis (commonly referred to as metabolic adaptation or damaged metabolism) and periods of higher energy consumption can mitigate these side effects.

For further reading on nutrition and Nick’s tips on eating well, click here.

Interview by Stephanie Cusack - marketing manager and yoga teacher at BECYCLE.

HealthGundula CoellenNutrition