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I know I should have a fast-digesting protein such as whey before I work out, but I prefer to use whole foods. What is the best whole-food source of protein to eat pre-workout?
You definitely want a high-quality fast-acting protein before you train. The amino acids reduce muscle loss and get the anabolic process started — a much better alternative than atrophying for two hours and eating when you get home. Besides whey, your best choice is egg whites (always cooked).
Egg whites have a higher quality of protein than whey, and they give blood a particularly rapid spike of muscle-building amino acids. A good meal choice would be an egg-white omelet. To avoid having to crack dozens of eggs, you can buy egg whites in prepackaged cartons. For transport, store the cooked omelet in a container, keep it refrigerated and microwave it just before your workout.
You can also use very lean (skinless and boneless) turkey, chicken or fish. These proteins aren’t as fast-acting as egg whites, and they come on strongest if poached or boiled (moist heat) instead of barbecued or pan fried (dry heat). Searing or browning the meat gives it a leathery skin that slows digestion You can also boost the rate of digestion by finely dicing the poultry, which makes chewing more effective and improves access to digestive enzymes.
It’s important to keep it lean. Fat delays stomach emptying and slows down the whole digestive process. That means nutrients are released in a slow trickle instead of the rapid surge you need for your training. Instead of cheese, oil or butter for flavor, use chopped tomatoes, vegetables, herbs and spices. As you’d expect, red meat isn’t good pre-workout fare. Some cuts, at 40-60% of calories from fat, take a long time to digest, and you’re better off with cooked egg whites, lean poultry or fish.