Do You Really Need to Eat That?
Allen Lim wrote very succinctly at the beginning of his cookbook for athletes:
“First Ask This> Do You Really Need To Eat That?
If you’ve ever run out of fuel while exercising and ‘bonked’ or ‘hit the wall,’ then you know how important eating early or often is to performance. . . However, once we take a look at the numbers I think you’ll agree that in many situations we are better served not eating anything when we’re exercising.” (Feed Zone Portables, p. 4)
Pre and Post workout nutrition is way overstated.
As an endurance athlete who does not eat animal foods I get asked a lot:
- What should I eat before I work out?
- What should I eat while I work out?
- What should I eat after I work out?
The answers I used years ago came from the sports nutrition and supplement industry:
- a gel or half a bottle of sports drink
- 1-2 gels plus sports drink per hour
- a post workout recovery drink
Then I wised up a little and decided that such engineered food wasn’t all that nutritious. So I changed my answer:
- a recovery smoothie in the blender with fruit, some spinach and protein powder
A slight improvement, but I still wasn’t at racing weight, and I was going through canisters of powders and potions like they were going out of style, all while searching for this elusive “recovery” that would allow me to train myself into the ground and bounce right back.
So I wised up a little more and realized real food worked better than the engineered stuff and my answer changed again:
- whatever the last meal was, breakfast or lunch, ideally 2-3 hours prior
- maybe a sport drink, maybe some dates, maybe a rice ball/cake
- maybe a recovery smoothie, or some fruit and a meal an hour later
Then I wised up even more and began to question the whole process, with a new answer:
- the previous meal
- the next meal, whenever that was
Everything went just fine and I learned that:
The Problem of Pre/Post and During Workout Nutrition is an ILLUSION!
You don’t need to expend any special effort to fuel up before a workout. You do not need to guzzle down 250 calories an hour during exercise, nor do you need some magic concoction after a workout.
Folks, we are a nation that is 70% overweight or obese. We do not need to look for new places and times to take in calories. Yet all the magazines drill into our heads that as soon as we start exercising, suddenly fueling becomes a tricky problem that requires diligent effort to overcome.
Most people, most of the time, who are exercising for an hour or so, do not need to eat anything. That’s right: NOTHING! If you are eating a healthy diet of adequate calories, you do not need to suddenly increase that. Your regular meals can suffice. What I see is a weird practice of people trying to limit their portions and calories at meals, then add all those calories back in the form of workout fuel and pre/post workout snacks. Madness! Just eat your regular meals and exercise. Your appetite will balance out whatever additional energy expenditure you engage in. Your brain is pretty smart like that, just trust it.
So why don’t people just trust their brain and eat normally?
Because some people do have to make a special effort. These are special people. We want to be like them. They are professional athletes, and they are not like the rest of us.
Professional athletes train multiple times a day for hours at a time. Their energy demands are very high. And it is crucial that they recover from the first workout of the day in time to put in a quality effort for the second (or third) workout. But that does not reflect the reality of a normal person, with a normal schedule, who exercises for an hour or so.
An average exerciser can store 1000 calories or so of carbohydrate in their muscles. And many thousands of calories of fat. An average exerciser burns no more than 500 calories an hour for aerobic exercise. See the numbers? Until your exercise session goes well over two hours, fueling is not necessary. Post workout fueling would be important if you trained right after waking, but that’s OK, it’s called “breakfast.”
Thanks to the sports nutrition industry and our own insecurity, we think we need far more fuel than we do. For special events, like really long weekend efforts, or races at high intensity, some more fuel is needed. But regular people, on regular days, doing regular exercise, only need regular meals.
Eat, Sleep, Train, Live
Don’t Overthink It