Avocado and eggs on toast / Getty istock

Peanut butter, avocados and frittatas crop appear to be common food choices among PTs

When it comes to exercise and diet, we are bombarded with conflicting information and it is difficult to know just exactly how we should be exercising and what we should be eating.

While some may think a one-hour gym session permits them to eat a pack of biscuits, others think they need to carbo-load before a workout. So what should you actually eat that won’t compromise the hard work you have put in on your run, power walk or spin class. 

Additionally, when undertaking a new health kick or fitness regime, there is often confusion as to whether you can still indulge every now and again or if should you be sworn off carbs and sugar for all eternity.

The Independent asked a selection of top personal trainers the best things to put in your body before and after a workout while also prying into what they really eat, despite their dedicated healthy living career path.

Avoid carbs before working out

Nick Mitchell, CEO of Up Fitness, says: “You want fat and protein because you need stable blood sugar levels. What I have always found with carbs, is they tend to raise serotonin - the relaxing neurotransmitter. You want dopamine and acetylcholine - and protein and fat are going to be of greater assistance. This is why you crave chocolate and pizza when you’re stressed: Because it calms the nervous system down. 

What needs to be a pre-workout meal is the thing that keeps you awake, if you eat a big bowl of pasta you are likely to want to go to sleep two hours later. So red meat, nuts and coffee, coconut oil and Boom! You're away. It’s better than porridge oats, banana and egg whites. However, it's whatever works best for you.

I have a re-feed day. The basic premise behind this is that as the body ‘flattens out’ and becomes over-trained and mentally and physically exhausted, then a short period of planned overfeeding will shock the metabolism, raise energy levels, kick-start any potential slowing down of the fat loss process, and (just as importantly for long-term adherence to any diet) make you feel human again. 

Have a small snack beforehand

Frankie Holah, Personal Trainer says: “The key is to have energy before working out so I stick to either a piece of fruit, smoothie or energy ball at least an hour before I train. You definitely don't want to over eat and feel sick. Post-session, you want to focus on re-fuelling and helping your muscles to repair, so protein is needed. Get something in your system as soon after as possible like a protein shake if you use it or protein ball or bar. Within the next hour and a half, try and get a balanced meal in which includes carbohydrates, protein and fats to refuel the body.

"I’ve never been one to count calories so I just try and keep meals and snacks balanced and as natural as possible. Breakfast is often porridge with nuts and almond milk or eggs and avocado if I'm at home. Most days it's frittata and salad for lunch and dinner is usually a big pot meal of Dahl or veggie chili with brown rice or quinoa.  I'm all about balance - I keep it minimal in the week but Friday evenings I'm usually pretty tired, so it is a nice glass of red wine and green and blacks chocolate. At the weekend, I usually can't resist a piece of carrot cake.

Don’t omit carbs from your diet entirely

Hollie Grant, a personal trainer at Pilates PT, says: “When we exercise we create tiny micro-tears in our muscles. This can be felt as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) usually around 48 hours after a workout and is the deep muscle pain that makes it impossible to walk the stairs or get out of chairs without wincing. Protein works to patch these up therefore it's important to ensure you eat a meal containing protein usually within 30 to 60 minutes after your workout.

“Many people seem to avoid carbohydrates nowadays but if you want to get the most from your training they are vital as they are broken down into Glycogen which fuels the muscles during intense exercise. 

“I eat three to four meals a day and I try to base them around a balance of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. I do not avoid any foods in particular (I am known to enjoy chocolate, beer and pizza) and believe in exercise rather than diets. I start the day usually with scrambled eggs and black beans or buckwheat porridge with banana and pecans. For lunch I usually eat a frittata, prawn stir fry or lentil dal. For dinner I eat homemade steak burritos, wholegrain spaghetti with sprouts and lemon or a homemade chickpea curry.

Wait at least 30 minutes before eating after exercise

Mario Kaspers, Trainer at E-Pulsive, says:  “To build muscle, it is very important your body gets the nutrition it needs. Before a workout, I typically have a vegan protein shake about 30 minutes before the workout, nothing too heavy. After the workout, for me protein is key. I ensure I wait at least 30 minutes because as soon as you start eating your body will stop producing the growth hormone key for building muscle. When I do eat I like to have a chicken salad, also make sure you stay hydrated during those 30 minutes.

Refuelling your body with sugar after exercise is a ‘myth’

Personal trainer Matt Roberts says: “Pre-exercise, a combination of carbs and proteins are needed in order to give you the sugar and the amino acids that will give you the greatest response. Poached eggs, toast and avocado, Chicken and couscous, salad nicoise are all good examples of what to eat around 60-90 minutes before exercise.

“After finishing, the assumption is that a sugar refuel is required, it is a bit of a myth and what you actually need after intensive exercise is some amino acid replacement as you have microscopically torn fibres. Personally, my main focus is on the post-exercise refuel as my diet is balanced enough to not be too concerned about pre-exercise fuelling, and as a post-exercise routine I eat boiled eggs, avocado and spinach.

Eat ‘simple’ carbohydrates beforehand

Esmee Gummer, a personal trainer at 1Rebel, says: ““Before a workout simple carbs are great as they are digested fast and provide quick energy. I always train in the morning so my day starts with porridge which I add peanut butter, banana or berries to. After a workout, if I’ve got time, If I’ve got time I have a second breakfast of scrambled eggs and avocado.”

It is important to treat yourself

Ruben Tabares, strength and conditioning coach, says: “I personally have never eaten before a workout, it always makes me feel unwell especially if I am doing a high-intensity session. If the stomach is digesting food, then it is using blood to do so and that blood could better be used in the muscles, hence why people feel sick when working out. If I had to advise people to eat something before they worked out then it would be something light which is easy to digest such as a fruit smoothie with spinach and superfoods.

“After a workout, it depends on what I am trying to achieve, if it's fat burning after a HIT session, then I only eat salad and protein as carbohydrates will stop the fat burning effects of growth hormone. If it's recovery then I definitely will eat carbs such as baked plantain or sweet potato, brown rice etc. I always make sure at least 60 per cent of my food is raw and the rest cooked with lots of healthy fats.

“I have an indulgence day once a week where I eat whatever I fancy on that day; it is important to treat yourself and enjoy the pleasures life and food has to offer. I never feel guilty about anything I eat and I try to make all my meals as tasty, healthy and imaginative as possible.”

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