My clients may have heard me make reference to these two different things recently.
On the blog you may have heard me say something like, ‘carbohydrates, when you deserve them’ or ‘carbohydrates post-workout only.’
Sure these are rules of thumb I like to employ with my clientele and encourage you to eat like this on whole, but after fielding a couple of these questions recently, it’s time to elaborate.
**As a side note, I encourage you to look at this old article, entitled ‘Eleven Eating Behaviors You Should Know.’
What’s the difference?
Basically an anytime meal is at least 1 serving of protein, — remember about the size of your palm, and guys should probably double that — with ideally 2 servings — 2 fist size servings of veggies, again guys, consider doing more when you can! — of veggies, and a little bit of healthy fat — 1-2 TBSP of Olive Oil, 1/2 an Avacado, a handful of nuts, etc…
That is assuming you plan to follow the traditional ‘eat three times a day’ doctrine.
Keep in mind though, that if you plan to eat 4-6 times a day — and I realize that a lot of people are making this recommendation these days, use it if it suits you — the protein shouldn’t change, but you might be able to reduce the amount of veggies.
Essentially this is a meal that most people would consider ‘low-carb,’ but that one shouldn’t consider ‘high-fat’ either.
Now, to get a little more specific with this, these meals will be largely lean protein, with about 25-30% or less of the caloric load coming from carbohydrates — i.e. veggies, look at healthy foods for your pantry for more of an idea of what I mean — and probably the remaining 75% being evenly split between protein and fat, though preferably more protein per caloric total*.
Now if you’re looking at your plate, think about a quarter of it should be a lean protein, 1/8 of it should be a healthy fat and 5/8th’s should be vegetables.
Still with me?
*The tricky part with food consumption is often the difference between using % of calories per macronutrient consumption and the more common # of grams per macronutrient consumption. As your unit of measure, lean towards percentage of calories and not grams.
Fat has 9 kcal per gram, more than double what protein and carbohydrates have at 4 kcal. So even though you may be only be ingesting 15 grams of fat in a meal, that’s still more calories than 30 grams of protein — 135 vs 120.
Post-training — AKA post-workout, but I avoid calling training sessions, ‘workouts,’ whenever possible, it just sounds tedious — meals are high-carb, low-fat meals, more typically found in modern food guides like the food pyramid, my plate, or Canada’s Food Guide.
Carbohydrates — particularly ‘starchy’ ones — are more easily processed after exercise, as the body shuttles glucose and protein to cells, in an effort to aid in recovery from that workout.
Rather than shuttle any excess calories into fat stores, the body prefers to use the carbohydrates in the form they are in as they hit the blood stream, under these circumstances.
This makes the body essentially primed to deal with higher caloric load, specifically the more ‘simple’ carbohydrate load. Also, if you’ve ever tried to eat ‘low-carb,’ — something like Atkins or paleo for instance — eating in this manner will prevent the lethargy often associated with a more pure ‘low-carb’ eating like that found in these diets.
Naturally it puts more of your calories in your system on days where it’s needed too — i.e. workout or training session days, where you are expending more energy than usual.
Ideally you’ve still got a good chunk of lean protein on the plate, but instead of the 1/8th of your plate being healthy fats, you’ve probably got 1/4 of your plate as a whole grain option of some kind (white potatoes and root veggies may qualify t00), with veggies and protein occupying the other 3/4’s of the plate.
Think between a palm and a fist sized serving of cooked starchy carbohydrates (oats, rice, quinoa, amaranth, cous cous, bulgar, etc…) or between 1/2 cup and 1 full cup of a grain cooked (same would go for white potatoes here too).
This meal should probably also be the biggest meal of the day for you (again depending on tolerance).
I typically give people a 2-3 hour window, but the closer to the workout you can tolerate the ingestion of food, probably the better. I prefer more advanced clients get this meal within the hour.
Ignore any special supplementation strategies in and around pre or post-workout if you are relatively new to the whole weight loss, nutrition and training thing. There are some beneficial usage of supplements in and around this time, but they are far more useful for people with an adequate training base and nutritional compliance. Supplements are also particularly beneficial for people with a rather strict or intense training schedule too.