You’ve probably heard the importance of quality post-workout nutrition for optimal recovery and muscle building.
But, what about the meal before the workout?
No, I am not talking about a top quality pre-workout supplement we often purchase and drink prior to training. While these can be extremely beneficial due to increased alertness, blood flow, and delay muscle fatigue they are NOT responsible for FUELING our workouts.
Evidence shows that what you have before training may be even as important as what you have after training to reach your goals.
But it seems like nobody really gives much attention to it. I will tell you why in my personal opinion a well designed pre-workout meal might be the missing piece in the puzzle.
1. Everything Begins with Protein!
There is a reason why every conversation regarding weightlifting always begins with protein. Protein is the primary driver for muscle growth promoting all essential amino acids for recovery while stimulating protein synthesis.
This is crucial if you want to maximize your results.
During times of training protein synthesis declines. Therefore, it is highly beneficial to consume protein from a quality source (whey protein) to promote an anabolic response. In fact, according to a study done by the University of Texas if the goal is to maximize growth then protein pre-workout is more beneficial than post-workout.
So How Much Protein Exactly?
This is the million dollar question that everybody wants to know. Of all the essential amino acids required for muscle growth and recovery, L-Leucine is the most important. Mainly, due to its effect of muscle protein synthesis.
Based on data, around 2.5 grams are needed to hit the Leucine threshold required to start the muscle building process. Depending on the protein source its content will vary.
This equates to roughly 30-40 grams for most sources. If you plan on having a whole food source like chicken or beef, aim to consume it around 3 hours prior to your workout. Doing this will minimize digestive issues and allow proper absorption.
On the other hand, if you plan on working out within 1- 2 hours a solid whey protein shake will do the trick. This is especially beneficial and convenient when you’re out of time and need a fast high-quality source. Just throw one scoop into your shaker, mix with water, and done!
2. Carbohydrates…Our Main Source of Energy!
Now this one can be a bit tricky even with the standard recommendations. The best advice is to find out what works for you.
What type of carb do you digest well? How much is too much? Are you the type of person that can tolerate a higher amount of carbs or do you easily put on weight with a moderate to high carb intake?
I used to be one of those persons who would consume high amounts of carbs (mainly quick digesting sources) before my sessions thinking this would increase my gains and overall performance. Well, it didn’t. My ignorance and lack of knowledge led me to follow the “gym gurus” advice all those years until I learned better.
The main role of having carbs pre-workout is to spike insulin levels and quickly deliver those high-quality nutrients to our muscles for performance. As with everything, moderation is key.
Go overboard and you’ll probably feel sluggish even gaining some body fat in the process. Have too little and your energy levels and workout performance will take a toll.
So what exactly is the optimal amount?
According to studies, consuming between 20-40 grams does wonders. This will provide you with just the right amount to power through your sessions keeping your insulin levels at bay while promoting those quality gains you are looking for.
If your goal is fat-loss stay in the lower end of the spectrum, and vice versa if your goal is muscle gain. My personal recommendation is to have a good blend of fast and medium digesting carbs. Maybe half a banana on top of toast will do the trick.
Another thing to mention is that for many people digestion is a BIG issue and eating carbs before a session might not be the best choice due to bloating, etc… If this is you then just mix a scoop of this with water and you’ll have sustained energy with no crash and optimal carbs for your session.
The true beauty about having carbs pre and post-workout is that your body will utilize them for fuel and recovery.
This is HUGE!
What this means, is that most of the carbs eaten around this time will be better utilized for their purpose. Fat gain will be minimal, while insulin sensitivity will be increased. Aim to consume around 50% of your daily carb intake around your training and you’ll see a dramatic change.
3. Lastly, Let’s Talk About Fat!
I know what you are thinking but guess what?
This is the least important macro-nutrient when it comes to pre-workout nutrition. Here are a few reasons why limiting fat intake prior to your session is a wise choice.
High carb intake should never be combined with a high fat intake due to its high potential for fat-storing. This is the opposite of what we want to accomplish. Keep in mind that fat intake should be moderate at all other times throughout the rest of the day.
Second, it has been shown that a high fat intake pre-workout reduces the growth hormone response to exercise. Again, this is a no-no. Due to its ability to increase anabolism, we must never suppress its release to reap the benefits of training.
Third, it turns out that high dietary fat intake prior to exercise also reduces testosterone release. Say what? Yes! If you want to build muscle you know this is a clear no-no.
Last, but not least. High fat reduces the rate at which we absorb nutrients (also known as gastric-emptying). This is highly beneficial at all other times to help us stay fuller for longer and satiated. But, this one time we have an exception to this rule.
Although, if fat-loss is your primary goal and you want to maximize your pre-workout supplementation there is a type of fat that you definitely want to consume at this time.
No kidding! But the moment my clients start to add this into the daily regimen they shed pounds like crazy. Aim for 2-3 grams of this prior to your next session and thank me later!
YOUR perfect pre-workout guide takeaways!
- Have 30-40 grams of a high-quality protein source (preferably 2-3 hours before training)
- Shoot for 20-40 grams of fast and medium digesting carbohydrate sources (banana, rice cakes, potatoes)
- Stay low on fat (aim for less than 5 grams of fat to allow fast digestion and optimal hormone release)
There you have it! You have all the tools you need to build yourself the best quality pre-workout meal to crush your goals.
As always aim for consistency, not perfection.
Find out what foods and combinations work best for YOU and experiment using these rules as guides.
I would love to hear your thoughts!
P.S. If you would like to get personalized nutrition coaching from me just fill out the free form and let’s get to work.