There are many contentious issues in bodybuilding nutrition, probably none more so then our pre/post workout nutrition. This is an area of considerable debate, not surprisingly as these two meal times are crucial to our level of performance and recovery. However it may come as a surprise that the vast majority of us are incorrect in our assumptions of optimum nutrition at these meal times. This is a common mistake. This article wishes to outline an ideal strategy for utilising our ‘before and after’ meals so that we are able to recover and grow like never before. Please note that these are only my opinions, thoughts in which I’ve gathered from others and adapted to myself through practical use of trial and error.
To begin with let us start with our pre-workout meal. Before going any further it is first necessary to outline the purpose of the meal which precedes our training. In my opinion the objectives are two-fold. We must have enough sustained energy to perform to our full potential whilst ensuring there are significant amounts of amino acids present to minimise any excess muscle breakdown. With this in mind we should turn our attention to the composition of this meal. To achieve the above we must include some source of slow burning carbohydrate and as an anti-catabolic it would be wise to source a sustained release protein. We then need to decide what sources, personally I prefer to derive my pre-workout carbohydrates from either sweet potatoes or in the form of a supplement. The reason being I’m uncomfortable with too much solids laying heavy in my stomach prior to heavy lifts. This I feel detracts too much blood away from the working muscles when training in order to breakdown the solids in the gut. As regards protein intake again I prefer a liquid source in the form of a supplement. Ideally we want a wealth of peptide bonded amino acids sourced from several proteins to give us a staggered release rate throughout our workout.
Two further issues to consider are exactly how much and at what time to best consume this meal. The answers to these questions obviously vary from individual to individual, but I believe it best to take an even ratio of protein and carbohydrates at 0.5g per kilo of bodyweight roughly 1hr before training. If I allow too much more time than that hunger often results throughout the latter stages of my workout, if I leave the meal too late I also suffer through impaired performance. Remember you don’t want too much blood around the gut at the time of training, emphasis should be placed on pumping the working muscles full of deoxygenated blood fast. So ideally you’re looking to source an even mix of both complex carbohydrates and protein; preferably in a liquid supplement form to be consumed at approximately 60 minutes prior to training, at 0.5g per kilo of bodyweight.
For added insurance against muscle catabolism it may be good idea to include 5-10g of L-Glutamine or peptide bonded amino acids, given the choice I would opt for the amino acids and take the ‘free form’ L-Glutamine 10mins before breakfast. This would be much more of a serious consideration if dieting on a low carbohydrate regime and is no means 100% necessary, the choice is yours.
Before progressing any further regarding post workout nutrition it’s worth noting a couple of points regarding food/supplement intake whilst training. Bodybuilders and other athletes can often be seen in the gym drinking sugary drinks, eating protein bars or other convenience snacks to see them through a full workout. This may be because they arrive to the gym straight from work and have to consume calories of some sort as a means to an end, or an honest belief this consumption to be of some aid. Please note that eating whilst training is a bad thing for two key reasons. Firstly it is of great importance to direct blood towards the working muscles and away from the gut, in order to fuel the muscles into working to their full capacity. This cannot be effectively done whilst food is present and in the initial process of digestion. Needless to say in the long run this will inevitably hamper your progress. Secondly you are missing out on a significant secretion of Growth Hormone if you choose to adopt this needles strategy. Throughout the day you have up to two natural releases, whilst training (progressive resistance) and during REM sleep. Research has suggested that up to 2iu can be secreted at this time, which I can assure you is well worth taking advantage of. So I suggest throughout your session you stick with water (no limit). I appreciate eating 1-1.5hrs prior to training may take a little preparation. But as the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail, never a truer word spoken.
This brings me nicely on to the second part of this article, post workout nutrition. This is where real gains can be made and lost as the ‘window of opportunity’ arguably represents one of the most important meal times to the bodybuilder/athlete. It goes without saying that the consensus of opinion is to make a speedy recovery so we can progress at the fastest possible rate. So common sense dictates that this common belief should be reflected in our post workout meal. With this in mind we now need to establish what needs to be included in this meal as well as how much we should be looking to consume. To begin with I recommend the contents to be split by a good 20 min interval. This is because of the large demand placed upon the body to replenish depleted glycogen levels. If you consume only protein immediately after or even with carbohydrates straight after then you’ve been grossly mislead. This is because your body will break down this protein to sugar to replenish glycogen stores, such is the demand. This is clearly what we don’t want, I suggest up to 1g per kilo of lean bodyweight of simple carbohydrates to be taken immediately post workout. This in my opinion is sufficient enough as to not compromise your protein synthesis. Ideally this is to be taken in a liquid form with added electrolytes and a small amount of fructose. I typically search out a mixture of simple sugars in the form of a ready made supplement or failing that a small bottle of Lucozade and a large banana. This is obviously subject to the individual’s lean bodyweight.
This alone can make a big difference even if protein consumption 20mins later is moderate. However this is not enough, we need to optimise this potential by consuming the same ratio of nutrients protein wise, 1g per kilo of lean bodyweight. I concede this sounds like alot but please don’t be suckered into the belief that we can only absorb 25-30g of protein at any one time, this is foolish thinking. It stands to reason that the more muscle you carry the more your body will need protein therefore increasing protein synthesis. This is fact as many of the top pros have had their urine tested for unusually high levels of protein (wastage). One German IFBB Pro has done this publicly in the magazines and results show he wastes very little, and he regularly consumes 500g per day. The point to remember here is we are far from sedentary people doing sedentary things and with a lot more muscle mass to support we must be able to assimilate in my opinion up to twice as much. Add to this the obvious advantage of broken down muscles craving such nutrients and in my opinion this suggested serving size seems more than reasonable.
Now that we’ve established an effective serving size we must now turn our attention towards content. There are of course many different types of protein all with different amino acid profiles and release rates, so which one? A fast acting protein is a wise choice as the need for muscular reparation is of paramount importance. This lends itself ideally to a whey concentrate/isolate ideally mixed with water. This will invariably flood the muscles with all the nitrogen they need in order to start repairing tissue fast. This also represents a superb opportunity to throw in any other muscle building nutrients; creatine, peptide-bonded amino acids, ribose etc. are among those reputed to aid in recovery.
So to summarise, we need to consider splitting our carbohydrate intake from our protein consumption by incorporating a 20 minute break. Both need to be taken in ample serving sizes as to best fulfil this muscle building potential, roughly 1g per kilo of lean bodyweight. Ideally both need to be liquid sources for quick assimilation with simple sugars being the better choice of carbohydrates and a faster acting whey being the superior option 20 minutes after.
To conclude then, this article has tried to outline a superior tactic for approaching these two crucial meal times. I am a firm believer that the cultivation of these habits would lead to significant growth for the majority. With an increased ability to perform and recover we can all continue on the long narrow path to continual gains. I appreciate this along with many other bodybuilding strategies takes a level of commitment to really achieve the full benefits. However it’s important to realise that these benefits is what makes this sport all the more appealing and worthwhile. I would like to finish by taking the opportunity to thank you all for your time in reading what I have to say on the subject matter.
Yours in training