I have answered this in the past but due to flood of emails on this subject I am going to go a little more in depth on the topic. I want to share some of my beliefs as well as some of the recent shifts in the industry. Some this “shifting” is due to the fads that have come and gone but MOST is due to the current research that is being done. PubMed.com for life….just sayin’.
Now, when I began working out all I knew about workout nutrition was that you were supposed to eat more protein. This was over 10 years ago and has not changed much except for the fact that research has proven that you don’t need to consume 1.5-2x your bodyweight which was popular belief back then. My gastrointestinal tract as well as my friends and family appreciate this.
For the most part, I always mainly focused on post-workout nutrition and ended each workout with a protein shake. This has always been a must. After a while and a little more advice from Men’s Health, I began to add high glycemic carbs (fast digesting) to the mix. Gatorade and bananas are my current staples but anything I can get my hands on is fair game.
One of the first books I read on the subject was Nutrient Timing by John Ivey. This book almost changed how I ate overnight. I began to plan my meals around my workout and followed a few simple guidelines such as consuming slow digesting carbs an hour before my workout, drinking a whey protein shake before and during my workout and another shake with fast digesting carbs after my workout. If you have interest in learning how to time your meals I highly recommend checking this out. It is a quick read and the material is easy to follow.
Recently, as in the past 10 years, there has been a shift towards taking supplements before, during, and after your workout. I fell into this trap as a teen and into my 20s now believe that the efficacy of many of these supplements is very low. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 herpes and 10 being a cellphone I would give most supplements a 2.3. Nobody needs that shit. There are a few that I DO believe in but I will get into that later.
To help help clarify pre-, during, and post-workout nutrition I am going to go into depth on each one individually.
You wouldn’t drive cross-country or better yet you wouldn’t drive across town on an empty tank of gas right? Didn’t think so. If you do chances are that you will end up taking public transportation for the rest of your life.
So why would you work out on an empty stomach?
More and more research is being done on pre-workout nutrition and the facts are saying that it is just as important if not more important than post-workout nutrition. Your body needs key nutrients to perform whether you are an Olympic athlete or just working out at the gym 5 times a week. In fact, without proper nutrition you may be doing more damage than good during your workouts. Hmmmm…
There are many pre-workout supplements on the market but as I said before I’m not sure that the cost to benefit ratio is really worth it since some of them are $50+/bottle. I won’t lie, I tried some of them in my younger years but haven’t touched them in years and am stronger, faster, and leaner than I was and honestly feel a lot better. I have even seen some meatheads become slaves to their supplements and don’t believe they can make gains without them.
Personally, if you do choose to take a pre-workout supplement, I recommend branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) which have been shown to prevent muscle catabolism and increase athletic endurance and power. BCAAs are the amino acids that our bodies is unable to produce so we must get them from other sources (proteins) so supplementing with them holds much merit. I take either ProGrade or Xtend (sounds like a male enlargement product right?) but that is it for a preworkout supplement.
On the food side, I try to keep it simple and consume some type of low glycemic carbohydrate 1-1.5 hours before my workout at the very least and protein about .5-1 hour before my workout. Yogurt, milk, a sandwich, smoothie, bison burger, granola, Kashi cereal or anything I can get my hands on basically. I try not to make it too complicated, just get something good in my stomach to fuel my training session for the day. I just try to avoid anything high in fat or too much fiber since it will take longer to digest and may slow me down a little.
Some companies are selling pre-workout shakes now but just like supplements, they can really add up and the cost to benefit ratio may be negligible. A scoop of whey or some low-fat chocolate milk and a banana may be all you need.
I have not been one to take anything during my workout on a regular basis but do believe that re-fueling on a particularly long training session may be beneficial. I typically recommend only training for up to 45-60 minutes per session which in many cases is more than enough since my programs do not typically contain long rest periods and time to dilly dally.
In rare instances where you are training for more than an hour at a difficult intensity there may be some efficacy to take in BCAAs, protein, and a recovery drink such as Gatorade. There isn’t enough evidence to conclude whether or not this is beneficial but it can’t hurt. Sometimes you just gotta go with your gut and feed the beast.
I have seen many bodybuilders who carry a shake around with them during their workout which is fine I guess. I just don’t recommend consuming anything too heavy as it may slow you down.
This may be my favorite time of the day since I love to eat and this is the time of the day where your body will efficiently use/tolerate more calories. A post-workout whey protein shake has always been a necessity but my post workout nutrition doesn’t stop there. I also consume another meal about an hour after my shake and then again about an hour after that. It helps that I work in a gym that is surrounded by such fine dining establishments as Chipotle.
Keep in mind that I am trying to get strong as hell and my goals may be different than yours but one thing remains constant. You should be consuming most of your calories for the day close to your workout.
As far as the shake goes, almost any kind of whey protein is sufficient for most people, just try to avoid the ones that contain many “kitchen sink” supplements as the price tends to be higher and who knows what you are putting in your body. I like to keep it simple. One that I highly recommend to my clients is Workout by ProGrade. It is one of the best that I have ever tried and ProGrade is a highly trusted company.
If your post-workout protein does not contain much on the side of carbohydrates I recommend taking in some sort of high glycemic carbs such as the ones found in Gatorade. Just make sure you are not getting the new “sugar free” or “zero carb” gatorades since that kind of eliminates the purpose. Really, any kind of fast digesting carbs will work here, I have gone as far sometimes to eat Gummi Bears if I had nothing else on hand. The important thing is to get them in shortly after you finish working out (15-45min).
In addition to post-workout protein and carbs, I have always been a strong advocate for the use of creatine monohydrate. Research has been back and forth on when to take it since after regular supplementation your muscles are fully “saturated”. I have always taken it post-workout and that seems to work for me but different strokes for different folks and I will continue until science proves otherwise.
In any case, try not to overthink it. Just make good choices and stick to some basic guidelines and as always, train hard.
- low GI carbs 60-90min prior
- protein 30-60min prior
- BCAAs 30min prior
- sip protein and/or carbohydrate drink
- whey protein
- high GI carbs (gatorade, banana, sugars*)
- creatine monohydrate
Important: I am not a nutritionist and these are only recommendations based off of what I have seen work for most people as well as myself most of the time. Remember that our metabolisms all basically operate the same way but there are slight fluctuations from person to person so you just have to find what works best for you.