One of the hurdles I have to get over with a lot of my clients when they begin their Ticket to Hotness™ is the idea that time in the gym doesn't do anything to you while you're there. Every movement, rest, and rep has a point and that is to place strain on the body and then allowing the body to react to the strain and produce change that is necessary to reach a fitness goal. That's right, you do not burn fat or build muscle in the gym. Physical change takes place in the other 155 hours in the week during your recovery. Wouldn't be ashame to waste those hours by improperly fueling your body and not allowing those changes to happen? This article takes a look at the basics of "peri-worout" nutrition, or what you should eat around and during your workouts in order to best fuel the changes you want to happen in your body.
But first a little review.
- Protein- This is the building block of your entire body and 75% of your dry weight. It's the legos you need to build and maintain muscle. In general you need 1-2g/lb of body weight per day.
- Fat- You need fat. Fat is necessary in the proper digestion of a lot of micronutrients (like calcium and vitamin D) and the creation of very important hormones like androgens, which build muscle and burn fat. Oh, and if you are not getting enough, your body will produce more cortisol which will make you more fat. So trust me and get at least 30% of your calories from fat.
- Carbs- Carbs are energy. There are various carbohydrates that metabolize faster or slower depending on the amount of fiber they contain, but you need energy to work out. How much and when depends on your fitness goals and workout timing.
- Vitamins and minerals- All the little guys, but especially potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium.
- Fiber- keeps your blood and bowels moving.
- Creatine Monohydrate- This is molecule your body produces but that people can supplement when training for optimum strength and power.
- Etc.- There are 1,000,000,000 more micronutrients that all do really important things. You need to eat food (and get a little sun) in order to get all of them.
- You need it to do live; you need it to function. And the more water you drink (to a point), the better your body will function. The better you are functioning, the faster you will see change.
Before you Sweat, Eat.
Simple rule that you should take from this and burn into your sports brain so you never, ever forget: Do not train on an empty stomach. That means lifting, running, swimming, spinning or anything that requires special shoes and a sports bra. Even when you are trying to maintain a caloric deficit, if you train with low blood sugar, your central governor will use it as a reason to make you feel fatigued more quickly and your net caloric loss will be lower. If you train without protein in your blood stream, you will be less likely to synthesize new muscle tissue after your workout. So eat breakfast, even if it's small, and have a snack containing protein before you get your sweat on. What you need will depend on your goals, but here are the basics:
- 20-30g of carbs in the 3-4 hours prior to training. That's basically a small meal.
- 10-15 grams of protein. To promote muscle synthesis. These can be BCAAs, if you are in a severe caloric deficit.
- Caffeine is handy for a pick-me-up and actually has proven to promote fat loss pre-workout.
- I suggest staying away from a lot of fat and fibre just prior to working out. It'll upset your tummy.
The idea here is to get your glycogen stores restocked so you can maintain a higher rate of work in the session. The science has not been done on the specific types of carbohydrates that are best for specific workouts, so you'll have to experiment. Longer sessions require slower burning fuel, and shorter harder sessions should require faster, high energy fuel. I eat whole wheat and a little honey. That keeps me covered with fast and slow metabolizing sugar. I also like a little peanut butter (1-2 tbl spoons) for the protein synthesis and super-slow metabolizing fat. If you are doing the math at home, what I am describing is a peanut butter and honey covered whole wheat English muffin. If it has been a while since that snack, I like Shot Bloks which have a little caffeine. Oh, and I also drink coffee AS I work out!
After You Sweat, Eat!
Post-workout nutrition is just as important as Pre-workout, but the goal is a little different. After training, the goal is to stimulate muscle growth and repair, as well as replenish glycogen stores. What you eat after is based on your fitness goals and how you just trained.
- After heavy lifting, when the goal is power and strength, you want a 2:1 carb to protein ratio with protein being 0.5 g/kg of body weight to stimulate muscle repair and growth.
- If you just ran or swam for an hour, you want a 4:1 ratio to promote repair and glycogen restocking. This should be done within the first hour and practically as soon as possible.
I carry a recovery shake (or chocolate milk!) with me to the gym or have it in the fridge so it's ready to go when I get back from a run. The reason you need to act fast is that if you don't feed those muscles what they need, they cannot get it easily from elsewhere and your next training session will suffer. Then the next one will suffer, and so on until you are in the Overtraining Death Spiral™ and our body goes to crap. If you don' get the carbs, protein and fat you need after you lift, your muscles won't grow and you will just be weaker and sore for longer.
Later On, Eat!
2-3 hours after you train, eat a sizeable, whole-food meal. This is usually my biggest meal of the day. Plenty of the "Four Mores" (protein, veggies, plant or fish fats, water) and yes, complex carbohydrates. This is the time that your body will be most sensitive to absorbing carbs and turning them into glycogen for fuel (instead of fat for fuel). If you consistently skimp on the carbs in this window, expect an Overtraining Death Spiral™.
Periworkout Nutrition for Dummies
There are a million pre-made commercial products you can buy, if you want to go that route. I'm not endorsing the ones I link to, per se, I'm just showing you they exist. They probably won't kill you.
- Before: Surge Workout Fuel, BCAAs, or Gatorade 01.
- During: Surge Workout Fuel or Gatorade 2.
- After: Whey-based protein shake or Gatorade 3.
- After After: A big, whole-food meal with the Four Mores and complex carbs.
A Common Mistake Not to Make
There is no excuse to binge just because you sweat a little. Do not go to Jamba Juice. Do not get a blueberry muffin at Starbucks. Do not get a Milky Way bar because "hey! It's got carbs!" The time to stay the most disciplined is when you think you deserve the most slack.