We’ve all heard it: eat within 30 minutes of working out, or make sure you hit the protein within an hour of working out... but what’s the truth?
Well, in truth, a little bit of what works for you. Some research has indicated that fasted workouts (aka, on an empty stomach) work better for men, while women do better with a little something in their systems before they work out - the difference is due to different hormonal systems in both genders, and that men and women burn fat and carbohydrate in different ways.
So if you're a man, work out on an empty stomach, and if you're a woman, eat first? Well, yes and no. If you're not that fussed either way, then yes, but if your body has a preference, go with that. If you can't manage the energy you need on an empty stomach (like me, I need a little something in my system) try a banana, or a scoop of protein with a shot of coffee and nut milk (mmm). Don't eat anything super-fatty or too much dairy before a hard workout though; they're both hard to digest and you'll be more focussed on your digestion than on your moves.
And on what should you be eating post-workout?
This is less divisive. Most people and all studies seem to concur: a mix of protein and fibre-rich carbohydrates. Protein for muscle tone and metabolism; fat to regulate hormones, fibre for your gut microbiome and greens BECAUSE THEY’RE GREAT. (Plus, cancer and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients.)
The logic behind eating within that hour of working out is the post-exercise anabolic window (to increase muscle growth), but the latest research indicates that recovery has more to do with overall consumption and nutrients in the bloodstream, so whether those amino acids and glycogen are coming from a pre-workout meal or post-workout meal, it doesn’t really matter. Just pick what you prefer.
Remember though that everybody, and every body, is different, so use your head. It depends on what sort of training you’re doing, how much energy you’re exerting... yoga is not the same as a HIIT class, which is not the same as a strength class. Eat when you’re hungry, eat when you need fuel, and hydrate like crazy.
If you’re eating well and eating regularly this will all start to fall into place automatically.