As with any nutrition protocol; pre- and during workout nutrition is ultimately individual based. In order for us to discuss this topic for the masses, we would have to sit here for hours on end, only to produce what resembles a short novel; not to mention it would probably bore you to death. In this case, the only way you are going to know exactly what will work to your body’s advantage is tried and true trial-and-error. All we can do is provide some guidelines with which you can tailor to your own personal needs.
Let’s start with your morning meal…
Unless you wake up in the middle of the night and eat a meal, throughout the night your body is in a catabolic state, also known as fasting. Catabolism is a metabolic process in which the body breaks down muscle in order to use amino acids and breaks down fat in adipose to fatty acids, for energy.
- Fasting: when food is unavailable to provide energy, the body uses its glycogen and fat stores as energy supply for the brain, nervous system, red blood cells, and other cells.
- If the fast continues beyond glycogen depletion: When glycogen stores are depleted, the body begins to break down its protein to amino acids to synthesize glucose for brain and nervous system energy.
The idea is to replenish your body with nutrients upon waking to provide energy until your next meal. Which nutrients you ask? That is simple, you need to consume some form of protein to stop catabolism and promote protein synthesis, some carbohydrate to replace glycogen stores lost while asleep (preferably lower on the GI), and some fats might not be a bad idea either (to promote weight loss and slower absorption of nutrients to keep you fuller longer). An example of a healthy breakfast would be an omelet made with mostly egg whites, a cup of oatmeal, and a piece of fruit. You get the protein from your eggs, your fat from the small amount of yolk, and your glycogen stores are replenished from your delicious cup of oatmeal and your piece of fruit. If you are one of those people who prefer to exercise upon waking prior to your first meal, you may want to try consuming 15-20g of protein in the form of a whey protein shake or egg whites to stop catabolism and provide an energy source for your training session. Again, this is completely up to you, and the only way you will find what works best is if you try different things.
And now for your pre-workout meal….
This is where things get tricky. Since every person has different goals in mind, the direction you take with your pre-workout meal will vary from person-to-person. One nutrient category that is beneficial across the board is protein. Studies have shown that consuming protein ~30 minutes prior to exercise may promote protein synthesis (building muscle). Not only is it promoting protein synthesis but it is stopping catabolism on the basis that your body now has a supply of amino acids to use as energy rather than tapping into your own protein stores (muscle). This is good for those of you whose goal is to maintain muscle while decreasing fat. Because you have not consumed any carbohydrate with this meal, it is likely you will not have the energy required for any massive gains in your training. In order to put on a significant quantity of muscle in a short period of time, you need to be consuming a significant amount of carbohydrates (you can’t just leave it out of your diet). This is opposite if your goal is to build lean mass while decreasing fat mass. You can build muscle while decreasing fat; but be aware that the muscle will accrue at a slower pace because of the lack of glycogen. That said, if your goal is to put on as much muscle as possible, understand that you will likely put on fat mass at the same time. For you, an ideal pre-workout meal will no-doubt contain protein (preferably whey because it contains BCAAs) and carbohydrates that fall low-to-mid on the GI. This can be done by mixing a scoop of whey protein with water and eating a piece of fruit, or put a scoop of oats in your shake; both of which work perfectly well and meet the requirements in nutrient content for this particular meal. So for those on the lean body bandwagon, just mix your whey protein powder with water prior to your workout.
Nutrition during your workout
Unless you are a competitive marathon runner, or your name is Lance Armstrong and are about to race the Tour De France, there is absolutely no reason for you to be consuming a sugary sports drink throughout your workout. Your entire workout meal should consist solely of water, or a BCAA drink such as Power Shock. The carb drink potentially might not be so fatal throughout your workout; it is just merely unnecessary. Why waste the money and calories, for that matter, on something that is really not going to be any more beneficial then not having it at all? Your pre-workout meal should supply all the energy your body needs to build the physique you are working so hard for.
Here it is in a nutshell:
- Breakfast should consist of protein and low GI carbs to stop catabolism, promote protein synthesis, and replace glycogen stores.
- If you train first thing in the morning have 15-20g of whey protein to stop catabolism and provide energy for your training session. Whey protein is beneficial also because it contains BCAAs.
- For those of you trying to lose body fat and build muscle mass, ~30 minutes prior to your training session have a whey protein shake to utilize the BCAAs for energy and avoid protein degradation.
- For those of you trying to build mass without worrying about fat loss, ~30 minutes prior to your training session have a whey protein shake with low-mid GI carbs such as a piece of fruit or some oats. This will help to supply energy by supplying glycogen to the muscles.
- Finally, drink only water of a BCAA drink throughout your workout. Avoid any unnecessary sugary sports drinks that do nothing but provide excess calories, sugar and cost too much money!
That said, go have yourself a protein shake and get your butt in the gym!